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Paradoxical Frog

Life on land

World Heritage properties are affected by the impacts of climate change at present and in the future. Their continued preservation requires understanding these impacts to their Outstanding Universal Value and responding to them effectively” UNESCO

Peter Hylands

November 24, 2022

“Of wild animals there are not a great many in Egypt, but such as there are, are without exception held to be sacred. Anyone who deliberately kills one of these animals is punished with death. Should one be killed accidently, the penalty is whatever the priests chose to impose. But for killing an Ibis or a Falcon, whether deliberately or not, the penalty is inevitably death”. Herodotus

Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands

1960s: “We are dreaming of conquering space. We are already preparing the conquest of the moon. But if we are going to treat other planets as we are treating our own, we had better leave the Moon, Mars and Venus strictly alone. We are poisoning the air over our cities, we are poisoning the rivers and seas; we are poisoning the soil itself. Some of this may be inevitable. But if we do not get it together in a real and mighty effort to stop these attacks on Mother Earth, wherever possible, we may find ourselves one day, one day soon maybe, in a world that will only be a desert of plastic, concrete and electronic robots. In that world there will be no more nature, in that world humans and a few domestic animals will be the only living creatures. And yet, humans cannot live without some measure of contact with nature. It is essential to their happiness”.

Sir Patrick Moore

1997: At the usual Managing Director's conference for Pearson Professional and staying in the usual hotel in Tottenham Court Road, I was in a hurry to get to a dinner appointment. By the lift and sitting on an armchair was Patrick, monocled and larger than life. I will always be grateful to him for what he taught so many of us about the night sky. Like us he also had an intense dislike of cruelty to animals and those that perpetrate these crimes. He received an OBE in 1968, CBE in 1989 and was knighted in 2001.

“When the Moon is a slender crescent in the evening sky, high enough to be seen against a reasonably dark background, the unlit ‘night’ part can be seen shining dimly. Leonardo da Vinci was probably the first to give the correct explanation for it. It is due simply to light reflected from the Earth on to the Moon. Terrestrial moonlight can be extremely strong, but earthlight on the moon is even more brilliant…”. Patrick Moore

The temple next door: Gifu, Japan

Gerald Durrell

“I had never seen such transformation before, and as I gazed with amazement at the unattractive husk which had housed the beautiful shining insect, I made a vow that never again would I judge an animal by its appearance”. Gerald Durrell


“In 1949, the IUPN held its first conference at the temporary United Nations headquarters at Lake Success in the United States. The Lake Success conference was undoubtedly a significant moment in the development of international conservation, and the IUPN showed that it could represent the interests of many different constituents. In addition it was unusual that the UN would support an organisation that sought to bring together both governmental and non-governmental institutions". Timothy J Farnham

Nicolas Baudin

“I am very sorry that King Island bears your name in that it seems to me to be of no interest other than offering a temporary resource for the fishing of sea lion and the seal the fishermen call sea elephants. It is all too apparent that in a short time your fishermen will have exhausted the resources that this island currently offers for the fishing of the sea lion and the sea elephant. Both will soon abandon their territory if you do not allow them time to recover from the losses that they sustain on a daily basis from the destructive war waged upon them. They are already becoming rarer than they were in the beginning and soon you will hear that they have disappeared altogether". Nicolas Baudin, December 1802

The species that were collected by Baudin and transported back to Paris and the Paris Museum included the Dwarf Emu (now extinct) and the Western Grey Kangaroo.

“At daybreak we found two of our kangaroos dead in their pens. I had no doubt that the bad weather had brought about their deaths for they were completely soaked by rain and the continuous mist that we had had for the past three days, in spite of the great care we took to cover their pens with good tarpaulins. This accident convinced me they should no longer be kept on the gangways where they were housed.” Nicolas Baudin, February 1803


“The subsequent fate of the Ashmolean Dodo, after it was removed from display, has passed into legend. The traditional story has it that, after a meeting of the Visitors (group of trustees), the Dodo, together with other decayed specimens, was thrown on a fire to be destroyed. Fortunately at the last moment, someone realised the folly of this action and pulled the head and foot out of the flames to be saved for posterity”. Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Tawny Frogmouth

For several years now our family of Tawny Frogmouths have returned to a tree just outside our window to nest. We watch them endure the storms of climate change, the precarious twig nest with stands the strong winds and is home to two young birds each year. Gandalf like and wise browed, these are good and successful parents, surviving the city life of Melbourne.

This urbanisation of wildlife in Australia is increasingly common as animals seek shelter from the ever  harsher climate conditions and the vast scale destruction of their habitat which leaves them without food and water in places where they once thrived. We were in Central Australia when the birds left their nest, this morning one of the young returned.

Crimes against nature

January 2019: It defies any kind of credibility that following the disastrous and toxic algal blooms on the Darling River near Menindee in New South Wales, that is likely to have killed at least 1,000,000 native fish (and many other animals that rely on the river’s ecosystem) that the neighbouring State of Victoria could announce yet another annual duck shooting season involving the needless slaughter of tens of thousands of Australian native waterbirds.

The 2019 season was declared despite the severe impacts on populations of Australian wildlife as a result of climate change, poor environmental practices and the vast amount of evidence that Australia’s waterbirds (and in extreme drought conditions) have declined at vast scale.

"We can only hope that Victoria’s politicians will extend us the courtesy of not pretending that this annual slaughter of birdlife, which is an environmental crime of international scale, is “sustainable and enjoyable family fun”.

Short-nosed Bandicoot

On the Short-nosed Bandicoot, a voracious insect eater but unpopular on cultivated land because of its habit of scratching in the cultivated soils: 

“It is a regrettable fact that this once familiar little animal is now extremely rare in South Australia. Not very many years ago it was common all over the state; today it is on the verge of extinction. It is remarkable and greatly to be deplored, that an animal that was so familiar and abundant in the childhood of the present generation of South Australians, is likely to cease to exist at all on the South Australian mainland”. Frederic Wood Jones 1968


“And so to the jellyfish which are extremely beautiful in their many forms and graceful movement. As we fly along the Cape York, Great Barrier Reef coast of Northern Queensland in the wet season, at each tropical river mouth, the great plumes of red soil, sometimes mixed with agricultural chemicals, spill onto the reef below. The answer to this problem is to clear even more native vegetation along these river catchments. As the reef dies, more Queensland coal mines are proposed.
Jellyfish love the warming and acidic oceans, their range ever greater (and the deadliest of all ever further south). Their numbers are ever growing in these perfect jellyfish conditions. They sting of course, and I can tell you first hand, is very painful, along the Queensland coast the stings are also increasingly deadly. It is the extremely venomous Irukandji jellyfish, small, hard to see and deadly to many. There are sixteen described species of Irukandji and you will not want to meet any of them”. Peter Hylands

On the Carboniferous

“The warm and moist climates, the vast primeval forests, and the abundance of water, created optimum living conditions. Various crustaceans and fishes developed greatly in the water, while on land the first terrestrial gastropods and winged insects appeared, often of surprising size.” Dr Joseph Augusta, Prague 1962

The history of Oxygen

Atmospheric Oxygen levels in the Carboniferous were at about 35 per cent. Today they are just above 20 per cent. Not to worry though, as long as you are not destroying the forests and oceans, you will just be fine.

On Ancient Egypt

“Of wild animals there are not a great many in Egypt, but such as there are, are without exception held to be sacred. Anyone who deliberately kills one of these animals is punished with death. Should one be killed accidentally, the penalty is whatever the priests chose to impose. But for killing an Ibis or a Falcon, whether deliberately or not, the penalty is inevitably death”. Herodotus

Lord Ritchie-Calder

Now to Sydney, 30 August 1975 and the ABC’s first Science Show hosted by Robyn Williams. Here we meet Britain’s Lord Ritchie-Calder as he speaks with Robyn:

“In the course of the last century we've put 360,000 million tons of fossil carbon into the atmosphere. On the present trends the accumulated requirements between now and 2000AD will come out as something like 11,000 million tons of coal a year, 200,000 million tons of crude petroleum and liquid natural gas, and 50 million cubic metres of natural gas. Now remember, this is coming out of the bowels of the earth, and now we are taking it out and we are throwing it back into the atmosphere, and into the climatic machine, the weather machine, where it is beginning to affect the climate itself. Now this is a very serious matter, and to me there is no question that our climate has changed”.

Great Barrier Reef

Now to 2015. As part of what appears to be an unfolding climate in Australia of ‘the less we (you) know the better’, a request by Australia’s Commonwealth Government Department of Environment to remove research describing climate change impacts on the Great Barrier Reef from a UNESCO / United Nations environment programme report, World Heritage and Tourism in a changing climate, has had the opposite effect, with this deletion hitting the headlines around the world.

References to the climate change impacts on Tasmania and on Kakadu were also removed from the report. I suspect this indicates a very poor understanding of the power of social media as well as being rather the opposite behaviour one would expect from this particular department.

Tourism is an industry that supports tens of thousands of people in employment along the Queensland Coast, and a major reason for visiting the region for many, is of course, the outstanding natural values of the reef.

The Internet means that people all over the world know what is happening to the reef and do so in real time. The businesses and their employees along reef and shore must have the most accurate information possible, regarding what is happening, and why and what it means.

In 2018/19 the comprehension of climate change issues from Australia's Commonwealth Government is catastrophically poorer. Overwhelmingly Australians want proper action on climate change and the economic benefits from adopting new technologies and acting on new opportunities that substantive change will bring. 

Denial is not the answer here.

The sad story of Australia’s Flying Foxes

2018: An extinction event unfolds before us. Flying Foxes are yet another species of wildlife despised in Australia, but not by everyone. Flying Foxes are immensely important animals to Melanesian, Aboriginal and other regional cultures where Flying Foxes exist.

Flying Foxes are the most beautiful of animals and endlessly fascinating to watch, we have always loved them since we met them for the very first time on Tongatapu, nearly fifty years ago.

Here I am going to discuss the Spectacled Flying Fox Pteropus conspicillatus which lives in tropical North Queensland. Like other species of Flying Fox, the Spectacled Flying Fox has become an increasingly urbanised species, persecuted, shot, poisoned and electrocuted on mass by farmers using electric grids, harried from the towns where they have set up camp.

Appalling recent behaviour in Cairns is just one such example. So this is yet another Australian species with nowhere left to go, no place of real safety that is. They are at risk from extensive land clearing and deforestation of their habitat, from cats and dogs, from hazards such as power lines and fencing, the continual disruption of roosting and breeding camps, ticks, and now as the colonies are at low ebb, mass die offs relating to heat events caused by climate change.

Like the Great Barrier Reef, the Flying Foxes that have lived here for millions of years, are now dying.

When we first began watching populations of the Spectacled Flying Fox, at sunset the sky would be full of these animals as they set out to feed, a spectacular tropical site. Now the tropical sky is sparser.

To track recent population trends, it looks something like this; by 2005 the Australian population of the Spectacled Flying Fox had fallen to less than 300,000, declines of at least 100,000 were reported over the following ten years. In 2018 the population was estimated at around 75,000 animals. In November 2018 an unprecedented heat wave in North Queensland, where temperatures rose to 45 degrees Celsius, is estimated to have killed at least 25,000 Spectacled Flying Foxes. So we are down to around 50,000 animals. These animals are vital in maintaining the health and diversity of remaining tropical forests in North Queensland.

Queensland’s Dusky Flying Fox Pteropus brunneus is now extinct, lost forever. A subspecies of the Black Eared Flying Fox, the Christmas Island Flying Fox Pteropus natalis is critically endangered.

The temperature threshold for mass die offs of Flying Foxes in Northern Australia looks like it is around 38 to 42 degrees, and possibly lower temperatures in some regions. Mass die offs of Flying Foxes are becoming increasingly common across the continent and across the range of species.

The rapidly dwindling but remaining species of Flying Fox in mainland Australia are the Black Flying Fox (largest heat related die off event recorded for the species was 46,000), the Grey Headed Flying Fox, the Spectacled Flying Fox and the Little Red Flying Fox.

Populations of the Grey and Spectacled Flying Foxes are estimated to have declined by at least 95 per cent over the last 100 years, not an uncommon decline for many species of Australian wildlife.

In 2018, despite these catastrophes, the Queensland and New South Wales Governments still allow Flying Foxes to be shot. Grey Headed and Spectacled Flying Foxes are the species most commonly shot.

Road works

Much of the rainforest of the wet tropics in North Queensland has been felled over a period of a hundred years or so, particularly on the coastal plain and on the Atherton Tableland. In the 1980s the Daintree came under very significant pressure, particularly so from the Queensland Government, with plans for real estate subdivisions (which still exist), logging, mining, damming of rivers, more sugar cane plantations and tourist facilities. And not only on the cleared and accessible edge of the forest but deep into its hidden places. Logging roads were bulldozed through the forest on the Mt Windsor Tablelands.

Despite dangers to the Great Barrier Reef from soil erosion, a coastal road was bulldozed through the rainforest from Cape Tribulation, where the 1950s – 1960s built road terminated, to Bloomfield, creating a new link to Cooktown. The road was completed in 1984, its purpose to open up the region and to cement the destruction of the remaining rainforest. The original section of the road was accompanied by large scale logging activities and destruction of the precious forest.

Wallace Lines

Wallace, like Darwin, travelled extensively, but spending extended periods of time in South America and Asia. It was on the ground in distant places that he developed his theories on evolution by natural selection and the geographical distribution of species.

In thinking about the issues of natural selection and evolution of species, Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin were contemporaries, Wallace triggering Darwin’s response, and that was the publication of On the origin of species in November 1859.

The Malay Archipelago 1869

“The chapters on natural history, as well as many passages in other parts of the work, have been written in the hope of exciting interest in the various questions connected to the origins of the species and their geographical distribution”.

Wallace identified a distinct boundary, where to the west of the boundary life forms are typically of Asian origin and to the east of the boundary species are predominately Australasian. The Wallace Line, as it is known, tracks in between Borneo and the Celebes on through the Lombok Strait between Bali and Lombok. There are a number of interesting differences of distribution between species, plants typically have managed to disperse across the Wallace Line more successfully than say mammals, where species, with few exceptions, remain markedly different. Even birds tend not to make the journey across the water and therefore across the Wallace Line.

Paradoxical Frog

Ah, yes, our Paradoxical Frog Pseudis paradoxa, a giant tadpole at around 25cm long which transforms itself into a green striped frog around 6cm long. The last time we checked the Paradoxical Frog was still alive and well in the wetland places of the Guianas, Venezuela and beyond. 

The next paradox is that while humans are busy destroying the places in which the Paradoxical Frog calls home, land clearing, pollution, climate change and all the usual things, the Paradoxical Frog is likely to become a very good friend. If it survives, that is.

I will leave you to find out why.