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Evaluation of wildlife corridors for the Southern Brown Bandicoot

Wildlife corridors appear to be the ideal solution in most people’s mind when it comes to the protection and enhancement of wildlife. There seems to be a deeply embedded corridor mentality that makes people believe that wildlife corridors will cater for everything. However, there needs to be a closer examination as to what type of wildlife will use corridors? And what type of corridors can be of a positive benefit to wildlife.

In the case of the Southern Brown Bandicoot (SBB) , to promote ONLY corridors in the Royal Botanical Gardens Cranbourne region for their survival is totally unacceptable and unproven. SBB’s should not be simply used as a bargaining point in order to create wildlife corridors. SBB’s are not a corridor living species by nature and therefore I can not see how, especially in brand new corridors, and with so many obstacles, that these corridors could be successfully used by bandicoots. They would also be severely isolated in corridors for long periods which will result in in-breeding and incest, problems which could be easy overcome if they lived in large reserves.

I therefore totally disagree with the proposal in TRYING for SBB’s to live within corridors ONLY and especially where they are exposed to foxes, cats, dogs and cars as well as the disturbance from adjoining urban housing estates.. They cannot, and will not, survive in these conditions! The unfortunate bandicoots would be condemned to a network of narrow corridors where they have to try to survive in what is left for them.

Even while some old, isolated remnant bandicoot populations still just survive in some linear fragments, such as road sides or drainage lines, it should not be expected that they will survive in newly created corridors and all will be OK for the future of this species.

These are cruel expectations and there is no real future for the SBB. They will not survive A proper scientific evaluation needs to be carried out, know as Population Viability Assessment. Bandicoots living under the above proposed conditions would never pass this test! Another situation, which has not been fully considered, is what if the corridors are considered a fire hazard, passing between housing estates? Vacant building blocks in these estates have to be cleared and slashed before each summer. In addition, the corridors will be most likely be used by people to walk their dogs, making predator control virtually impossible.

In respect of new corridors, I have never heard of a case where a long and narrow, brand new corridor was able to connect two substantial colonies of bandicoots. I have no objection to a short and wide corridor linking with two substantial colonies of bandicoots with appropriate protection such as predator proof fencing. However, such a possibility does not exists in these regions, due to the fact that SBB’s living outside the Royal Botantical Gardens Cranbourne and in the Koo Wee Rup swamp area can now only be found in some linear fragments. Fox and cat control will not be able to protect them there for ever.

Strangely, when a corridor for bandicoots is still seriously considered to link the RBGC with bandicoots on Quail Island; with Koo Wee Rup, and into the Frankston area it becomes obvious to me that no proper thought was given to the implication encountered .

The distance to Quail Island alone is 10 km and to Koo Wee Rup much further.Disastrously, the latest news is that there are at present fewer than 100 bandicoots remaining on Quail Island due to feral pig disturbance. Bandicoots will have to swim from the island at exactly the right spot to find the entrance of the open-ended corridor on the mainland visa versa. The corridor needs to be at least 200 m wide but Malcolm Legg, the local ecologist, suggests they should be 1 km wide. In addition, to provide any form of protection, the corridors need to have a predator proof fence on both sides (therefore 20 km of fencing is required for the Quail Island corridor alone) and all of these corridors have to be re-vegetated to suit bandicoots. This type of scenario applies also to the proposed corridors to Frankston and the Pines.

Another problem is that the majority, if not all, of these corridors have to cross several roads and many will have serious bottle necks. These corridors were recently approved by the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, Senator Simon Birmingham, after “serious consideration” , and were recommended in the most recent strategy AS THE ONLT SOLUTION. There is no costing for them or for the cost to obtain some private land. This and other such proposed corridors, will do absolutely nothing for the long-term protection and well-being of the SBB. This deeply inbred corridor mentality is the reason why all of the Government’s strategies to protect the SBB’s have so far failed. A PHD student, Sarah Maclagan, currently caring out research into SBB’s in this region, agrees that corridors are only a small part of a solution for the ultimate protection of them.

I further question why the SBB’s are expected to mostly survive in corridors within this region when for a closely related species, the Eastern Barred Bandicoot in western Victoria, no corridors have been considered for them, and for good reasons.

To my dismay, I am absolutely amazed that in all of those failed strategies there was never a mention of keeping bandicoots within large reserves surrounded by a predator proof fence. In the Pines Flora and Fauna Reserve at Frankston North, there were at one time at least 400 bandicoots. The $ 1.6 million allocated for predator proof fencing was taken away, in spite of the $ 20 millions spent in the reserve on underpasses for this bandicoot as well as for the re-vegetation of large areas to suit them. To allow dog walking in this nature conservation reserve seems to be more important to Parks Victoria then the protection of this nationally endangered bandicoot,.

I note that, beside the Pines, there are several other reserves on the Mornington Peninsula which have suitable habitat for bandicoots and should be considered such as the Briars Park at Mt. Martha which already has a predator proof fence around their nature reserve as well as many other reserves where bandicoots used to be in their hundreds.

In order to prevent the extinction of this species, some ‘insurance’ colonies within large reserves should be a priority.. Bandicoots will be so much happier and safer in a much more natural environment where they can retreat in the hot summer into cool gullies and freely spread out in all directions in winter . It will be more natural or akin to ‘wild’ conditions, than being crammed into narrow corridors and exposed to all the threats that are created by corridors. As to the health of the gene pool, bandicoots can be easily exchanged between reserves by trans location.

Anyone really and sincerely concerned with the survival of this species must first and foremost make recommendations for SBB’s to be re-located within reserves such as the Pines, the Briars and possibly two other reserves, surrounded by a predator proof fence.

Why not copy the proven success experienced in the RBGC and follow this example rather the risk trying to condemn bandicoots into corridors?

To invest millions of dollars as a long-shot in unproven corridors for bandicoots is an expensive way to achieve even more failures. There is, at present, already $20 million wasted on under passes in the Pines and this could be exacerbated by loosing yet more money in the construction of unproven corridors especially created for SBB’s.

There are at present far too many pseudo experts who seem to know better than people involved with bandicoots for over 40 years. Their recommendations are based on emotions only rather than on clearly evaluated and scientific evidence which, unfortunately, unfortunately resulted in a long history of failures for this species.

While I strongly support the creation of corridors between housing estates for other wildlife and in order to prevent wall to wall urban development, we should not use the endangered bandicoot as bargaining chips for the establishment of corridors, and in this way, restrict the ways they should be properly protected.

Therefore, the creation of corridors and the protection of bandicoots must remain two distinctly separated issues! For the prevention of regional extinction of this species, they must not be provided with just corridors only.

Comments

Another problem is that the majority, if not all, of these corridors have to cross several roads and many will have serious bottle necks! Do they poor displaced marsupial have to learn to negotiate traffic lights, buttons, foxes, cats, housing expansion and all the other miscellaneous entrapments of suburbia? Our long and slow evolving native animals are being asked to negotiate the impossible, as part of being squeezed out of their natural habitats because of human expansion! Where's our moral obligation towards our native species, especially as DELWP want to improve biodiversity and restore declining levels in Victoria.