In good hands: The story of a rescue
Life on land
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Life on land
Gentle creatures, Kangaroos are among the world’s most adorable animals. Watching the mob of Kangaroos that surround us, to observe the close relationship between mother and her joey, is a deeply moving and a joyous experience. Kangaroos are indeed a wonder of the natural world and a wonder of Australia, the symbol of Australia that is always in our thoughts and in our hearts.
So with Kangaroos in mind, once more we make the long journey from Melbourne to Bathurst, stopping for the night at Rutherglen near the Victoria / New South Wales border. This is also one of our favourite wine towns with plentiful supplies of great Australian reds. So we stop at the nearest vineyard to our motel.
At the time of our visit the situation was as follows. The Bathurst Regional Council have provided a block of land for the temporary housing of the Kangaroos as they were being gathered in from the surrounding landscape that includes the nearby eastern slope of Mount Panorama, the location for a car race, the Bathurst 1000.
So we take the long drive north from Melbourne to Bathurst, stopping by at Canberra to talk to Australia’s Threatened Species Commissioner, to visit the remarkable Kangaroo rescue known as the Bathurst Kangaroo Project. Ecologist Ray Mjadwesch, partner Helen Bergen and a team of dedicated volunteers manage the project. The volunteers are making a significant contribution to the community with an estimated saving, if the Kangaroo move had been paid for, of between $300,000 to $400,000.
The land where the Kangaroos are currently located and from where they will be rescued, is an abandoned orchard and derelict in its current form. It will be redeveloped in coming years.
The land is surrounded by a fence, the funding for which, has been provided by the Bathurst Regional Council. Inside the fence there is a derelict house and some shedding; a remnant of an old orchard, well past its used by date, with many fruit trees felled and scraped together, their leaves long gone; a number of felled pine trees still laying where they were cut and various piles of rubbish and remnants of farm tracks. The ground cover is weedy grassland. The land external to the fence is in similar condition and is used as a campsite for people attending the car races. So it is composed of strips of tarmac and cut grass. There are numerous rubbish bins stored here.
The immediate area is generally unattractive and today contains little vegetation of significance or relevance. In its natural state the region would have been covered by Box-gum woodland and other plants included the Bulbine Lily, an important food for the Wiradjuri people. Kangaroos eat mostly grass and that is their main diet in the temporary enclosure.
This is a complex project requiring great skills to gather the Kangaroos, to move them and to settle them in once they are relocated. Itall takes effort and compassion to make it work and as the relocation team await approvals to move the Kangaroos from the New South Wales Government, we can only hope that the project moves forward to success.
As Kangaroos are one of the world’s most significant blame species there will be many who hope that the Bathurst Kangaroo Project does not succeed.
The Kangaroos were not the only visitors to the orchard site where the surrounding land contains remnant Yellow Box, as the last survivors of a community that is now listed as endangered nationally (Grassy Box-gum woodland). We note that incredibly the site supports a small population of Dusky Woodswallows (a threatened species), as well as Butcherbirds, Pardalotes who nest at the site, Rufous whistler, Lapwings, Thornbills, Wrens and various raptors, commonly the Black Kite, but occasionally Spotted Harrier, Black Falcon and Little Eagle (all threatened species), which prey on the numerous rabbits that live around Mount Panorama.
It is now more than two months since our last trip to Bathurst and the story so far is that the Kangaroos have been gathered up from the mount and away from its racetrack. The Eastern Grey Kangaroos are being held in a disused orchard, which is fenced to keep the Kangaroos within the enclosure and out of harm’s way.
If you think all that sounds complicated the hard bit is yet to come. And that is why we are here.
"We have been walking around the orchard since September (2016), we have been going there twice a day, we bring food and turn the water on. Particularly the young ones, particularly the ones newly out of the pouch, they have seen us every day of their lives".
The task now is to move the Kangaroos to a secret release site about two hours away from Bathurst and to a remote private bushland which is to be the Kangaroos new and beautiful home. This is being done with the enthusiastic support of the owner of the property.
So it is that on the second evening of our journey we meet our friends Ray and Helen as we all prepare to head to the orchard to begin the nights work of moving a small group of Kangaroos.
“When you work among Kangaroos, understanding their patterns of behaviour and how we fit with the mob is very important. If you walk with purpose or run towards Kangaroos they start thinking that you are a predator. So you walk slowly, stop occasionally, look away sometimes and then you a reacting more like a Kangaroo”.
This is indeed a complex task, with numerous stages and processes and a great deal of organisation. It reminds us of army manoeuvres requiring complex logistics, an acute sense of timing and great skill to keep everyone, including the Kangaroos of course, safe.
Part of the organisation has been to bring together a team of wildlife experts, vets, one travelling all the way from Melbourne to observe the move, and volunteers to assist with the practical tasks. Everyone has a specific set of tasks. It is dark and the Autumnal chill is definitely with us.
The task tonight is complicated by lots of obstacles within the orchard that makes darting the Kangaroos particularly difficult. Ray’s great skill with animals rises to the delicate task of carefully sedating them. Meanwhile and while we work, traffic streams past us on the busy road adjoining the orchard.
It is so good to be here again and watch the skilful work unfolding before our eyes. Ray is indeed the expert darter among the group. A misfire could easily shatter the bones of a Kangaroo, so darting is an exacting process. The process is particularly difficult in the dark conditions and with these agile and fast moving animals.
As soon as a Kangaroo is darted it is gathered up in a stretcher and gently carried to an old shed within the orchard that has been carefully prepared to process the Kangaroos during the move. The Kangaroo is then placed on a soft bed of towelling and its head is covered with a towel.
Various scientific measurements are completed, each Kangaroo is given a health check and details are recorded. Each Kangaroo is tagged so it can be identified. With the night’s vet quietly observing each Kangaroo to ensure it remains asleep, not too sedated but gently under.
When seven Kangaroos have been gathered and processed in this way they are loaded with great care into the vehicles. A strange cargo indeed.
In the depth of night the relocation team make the two-hour journey to the release site. The Kangaroos arrive in their new home at around 2am in the morning.
Here there is another compound, so this is what we call a soft release. There is also a special enclosure for mothers and their young just to make sure they do not get separated as they wake up from their night’s unexpected sleep. The animals will be held in the main release compound for a number of weeks before finally being released into the wild.
On arrival, and the site has already been prepared, each Kangaroo is laid gently in its new home and under a faint light which is suspended above each animal. A strange sight as if from a fairy tale. The lights have been placed above each animal so that the team can observe each and every one during the long night as they recover from sedation.
Kangaroos are delicate, evolved super efficiently, but with little built in obsolescence in terms of bone strength, so the last thing the team needs is for a Kangaroo to make a dash for it while under the effects of the sedative.
That night all goes well and the Kangaroos awake gently in the morning light. And this is when we join the team again.
“Kangaroos have been removed from vast regions across Australia and are now completely missing from much of the Australian landscape”.
Over vast areas of Australia, Kangaroos have been exterminated and replaced with cattle and sheep. In terms of grazing pressure about 30 Kangaroos are equivalent to one cow and we have to remember that with cattle and sheep we are looking at hard-hoofed animals, which trample native vegetation and critically important waterholes and compact and erode soils. One sheep eats a lot more than one Kangaroo (roughly five Kangaroos are equivalent to one sheep). Cattle are also much heavier than Kangaroos.