Wildlife in the picture

Kate RastonCountryman
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Wheatbelt farmers and researchers are compiling a snapshot of native animals in the region, reports Kate Raston

An echidna wanders in front of a hidden camera and stops to drink from a puddle.

The scene is nothing dramatic, but what happens next provides the first such footage taken in the WA Wheatbelt.

A second echidna follows the first, then a second, third, fourth and fifth to create an ‘echidna train’ as they follow the scent of a female.

The short film clip, captured at the Korrelocking Township Reserve, has now been posted on YouTube and has had more than 1000 hits, generating plenty of interest among wildlife enthusiasts.

Helping to film scenes like these are private landholders, keen to know what’s hiding on their Wheatbelt properties.

And co-ordinating some of the 50 or so camera traps in the region is WWF – Australia’s Mike Griffiths.

“Camera traps are similar to security lights in that they are triggered by moving, warm objects, ” he said.

“Some cost less than $300 and can take up to one minute of video footage at a time.

“They’ve been used in the Wheatbelt for a few years, but have really taken off in the last 12 months or so.”

Bencubbin’s Russell Sachse has placed a camera trap in 2000 hectares of his remnant vegetation.

“I wanted to find out more about the breeding season of the mallee fowl, ” Mr Sachse said.

“This included mating rituals and the hatching of chicks.

“I now have some great footage of mallee fowl, but some of that includes native wildlife being attacked by feral animals, which is of huge concern.”

The mallee fowl is a large ground-dwelling bird, slightly bigger than a domestic hen.

Once common, numbers have seriously declined over the last 100 years and the species has now been classified as ‘fauna that is rare or likely to become extinct’ under the WA Wildlife Conservation Act 1950–91.

Mr Griffiths said the camera traps highlighted the problem. Footage showed foxes coming into the area and sniffing out mallee fowl eggs.

“Feral cats are a huge problem, ” he said. “We also have footage of domestic cats straying kilometres from their homes, hunting native wildlife.”

While the cameras highlight the damage feral animals do, they were also designed to help landowners discover more about their own backyards. Natural Resource Management group Wheatbelt NRM wants to do this through its Healthy Bushland program.

The program encourages private landholders to place a covenant on patches of land that contain remnant vegetation.

Wheatbelt NRM’s Rebecca Palumbo is working with 12 farmers in the hope that 4000ha of bush will be protected in its original state forever.

“We’re using camera traps in patches of bush to show landholders exactly what’s happening out there, ” Ms Palumbo said.

“If people can see some of the native animals they already have on their land, they’ll be more likely to want to protect the area.

“We have also purchased a number of camera traps to make them available to landholders and community groups next year.

“A lot of people have exciting things in their own backyards and don’t even realise it.”

Mr Griffiths said other important finds included the Gilbert’s dunnart in Cunderdin.

This mouse-sized carnivorous marsupial used to be common in the Wheatbelt until the 1900s, but widespread land clearing destroyed much of its natural habitat.

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