Where the blame be­longs

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS FIGHTING THE FERAL INVASION - Amos Aik­man

FERAL preda­tors and in­tro­duced dis­eases have done more dam­age to Aus­tralia’s bio­di­ver­sity than land clear­ing, fire or habitat loss, and it’s time the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment joined farm­ers in pres­sur­ing the gov­ern­ment for bet­ter quar­an­tine laws, a new re­port says.

The study’s au­thor, bi­ol­o­gist and writer Tim Low, said green groups that put all their ef­forts into try­ing to halt en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion would get more ben­e­fit per dol­lar spent from wor­ry­ing about stop­ping the next lan­tana or cane toad as well.

“Aus­tralians think they’ve got the world’s best quar­an­tine sys­tem, but re­ally it’s a dis­as­ter in slow mo­tion,” Mr Low said.

“The con­ser­va­tion move­ment should be talk­ing more about quar­an­tine, even if that means say­ing a bit less about habitat loss.”

He pointed to the re­cent dis­cov­er­ies of myr­tle rust (af­fect­ing trees) and white spot dis­ease (at prawn farms) and said the Asian black-spined toad (a pos­si­ble cold-cli­mate cane toad) had been spot­ted in Aus­tralia.

“There’s a wide­spread mis­con­cep­tion habitat loss is caus­ing most ex­tinc­tions in Aus­tralia, but ev­i­dence doesn’t back that up,” Mr Low said.

He has re­cently pro­duced a soon-to-be-re­leased re­port for the In­va­sive Species Coun­cil show­ing that feral an­i­mals and in­tro­duced dis­eases pose a greater threat to Aus­tralia’s most vul­ner­a­ble na­tive wildlife than do most other fac­tors.

The 20-page doc­u­ment, en­ti­tled “In­va­sive Species: a lead­ing threat to Aus­tralia’s wildlife”, ob­tained by The Week­end Aus­tralian, sum­marises the work of dozens of au­thors.

It shows that in­tro­duced feral an­i­mals, weeds and dis­eases pose a se­vere risk to more than three-quar­ters of all am­phib­ian, mam­mal and bird species on the threat­ened species list and to more than half of all types of threat­ened plants, fish and rep­tiles.

Aus­tralia has lost more mam­mal species than any other coun­try; feral cats and foxes are con­sid­ered mostly to blame.

The study points to only one ex­tinct an­i­mal (the toolache wal­laby) for which habitat loss is con­sid­ered the pri­mary driver of its demise.

In­va­sive Species Coun­cil CEO An­drew Cox said the dan­ger was “not just on­go­ing, it is in­creas­ing”.

“The size of the threat is far big­ger than what most peo­ple had be­lieved.

“It is largely in­vis­i­ble and slow mov­ing.

“As a re­sult, gov­ern­ment re­sponses have been poor and of­ten mis­guided, long af­ter it is too late,” he said.

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