Rakali: the Australian “otter”

Rakali, the Australian water-rat, is an attractive and charismatic native rodent that tends to resemble an otter, rather than their pest relatives, the brown and the black rats. The amphibious mammal inhabits rivers, creeks and farm dams; however, they tend to be elusive, which may be why you haven’t spotted one before.

Rakali prefer waterbodies with low-growing dense vegetation close to the water’s edge, and occupy burrows located in creek and river banks, or large hollow logs near the water. They can grow relatively large and can be easily identified by their distinctive white-tipped tail. They are an apex predator in our waterways, with a varied diet including fish, insects, yabbies and waterbirds.

Once hunted for their soft fur, rakali populations declined dramatically until the mid-1900’s, when hunting ceased and populations were able to stabilise. Nowadays, the biggest threat to rakali populations are illegal fishing traps and nets left in waterways, which rakali get caught in and drown. They also experience predation by foxes, cats and dogs.

A recent study looked at 17 years’ worth of recorded rakali sightings across Victoria combining live-trapping and citizen science records. This information was used to examine rakali distribution and habitats. Live trapping upsteam of Toorourrong Reservoir, and records from the Atlas of Living Australia (https://www.ala.org.au/) showed rakali to be present in the City of Whittlesea, albeit in low numbers. Keep an eye out for one on your next visit to the reservoir, and remember to add your sighting to the Atlas of Living Australia.

If you are interested in learning more about the Australian water-rat, you can find the full report HERE. The Australian Platypus Conservancy are holding a rakali information session on Tuesday 24 July (for more information: gay.gallagher@bigpond.com) or call the Land Management and Biodiversity Team on 9217 2323 or 9217 2147 if you would like to report a rakali sighting or more information on how to make your property rakali-friendly.

 

Whittlesea’s Koala’s: Where Are They?

 

The Koala is an iconic species, and compared to northern Australia, the population in Southern Victoria is doing relatively well. Despite their perceived security in Victoria, there is mounting evidence that while some populations are increasing, others are in decline. Koala’s across Australia are threatened by habitat destruction, fragmentation, disease (Chlamydia), drought/climate change, mortality from vehicles and dogs and prescribed burns and wildfire. For those populations with high densities, over-browsing resulting in the defoliation of their favourite food trees is a major concern and one of the issues addressed in the Victorian Government’s Koala Management Strategy. In these circumstances, translocation of animals may be necessary. The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Parks Victoria recently coordinated a translocation of 435 Koala’s from French Island to Kinglake National Park (see photos). French Island is recognised as an important source of disease free Koala’s to bolster mainland populations. The translocated animals can be identified by their coloured ear tags and may enter our municipality where suitable habitat exists.

In Whittlesea, Koala records are sparse and the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/environment-and-wildlife/biodiversity/victorian-biodiversity-atlas) contains only 13 records of this species within the municipality.  Council staff recently recorded a koala via a remote-sensing camera near Toorourrong Reservoir, a significant sighting given the rarity of this species in Whittlesea. If you record this species, please contact Council’s Biodiversity Officer (Ruth Marr) on 9217 2025 or ruth.marr@whittlesea.vic.gov.au.  Detailed information including, location description, GIS co-ordinates, tree species koala recorded within and presence of ear tags would be very useful.

 

Koala translocation photos courtesy Vivian Amenta (DELWP).

Whittlesea’s Australasian Bat Night

The City of Whittlesea invites you to their 2017 Bat Night. Bat expert Robert Bender will present on the fascinating world of bats, guiding the group on a short walk amongst the surrounding River Red Gums and using bat detectors to try to locate some!

A door prize of a bat box will be available to take home for one lucky person. All children will be given bat masks and a bat colouring page to take home.

On the night, please wear appropriate clothing for the weather and bring a torch for the short walk. Book in advance to secure your place and for catering purposes (light supper provided).

Date:                Friday 21 April 2017

Time:                7 pm – 9 pm

Location:         Tuttle Recreation Reserve, 525 Epping Road, Wollert (next to Wollert CFA)

RSVP:                Whittlesea Bat Night—Eventbrite

For further information contact Council’s Biodiversity Planner, on 9217 2025 or email ruth.marr@whittlesea.vic.gov.au

Photo taken by John Harris of Wildlife Experiences

Rabbit Virus Release: What you should know

This week, the release of the new RHDV1 K5 virus will be rolled out at 700 sites across the country. You can find all you need to know about the history, release and monitoring of the virus here, but these are some key summary points:

  • The release of this virus has been a decade in the making and studies have shown no off-target impacts to other fauna species.
  • Both European Rabbits and European Brown Hares are susceptible.
  • The virus is delivered by baiting with individuals displaying flu-like symptoms (temperature and lethargy) within 2-3 days of consumption. Death occurs quickly, between 6 and 12 hours after symptoms are first displayed.
  • While domestic and farmed rabbits are susceptible to this strain, a vaccine is available and owners should make contact with their local vet for more information.
  • Previous studies have shown that a reduction in rabbit numbers can result in a simultaneous reduction in fox and feral cat numbers. Good news for our local native wildlife!

In conjunction with Melbourne Water, the City of Whittlesea recently hosted a presentation on the Australian Water Rats (Rakali) given by Geoff Williams, Director of the Australian Platypus Conservancy (APC). The APC needs your help to record the location of Water Rats. This species is very difficult to study in the wild so any information from the public is vital to understanding their status, distribution and conservation needs. You’ll often see them swimming on the surface of the water, with their distinctive white tipped tail. Go to the APC website for more information and if you see one remember to report it!  http://www.platypus.asn.au/

Photo courtesy Andrew McCutcheon

Seen any of these prickly little critters around lately? If you’d like to know more about why Echidnas (like this one spotted on Camerons Rise in Eden Park) are vitally important for a healthy ecosystem, click here.