Na­tives’ Ark: Fenced haven to save an­i­mals

The Advertiser - - NEWS - MICHELLE ETHERIDGE

A FENCE stretch­ing 23km across the bot­tom of the Yorke Penin­sula will cre­ate Aus­tralia’s largest open-range sanc­tu­ary – the Great South­ern Ark – to keep out feral cats and foxes and rein­tro­duce at-risk na­tive species.

Work on the mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar bar­rier is ex­pected to be­gin by the end of Fe­bru­ary, after Nat­u­ral Re­sources North­ern and Yorke called for ten­ders.

The State Gov­ern­ment-led sanc­tu­ary pro­ject will rein­tro­duce species at risk of Aus­tralia-wide ex­tinc­tion in­clud­ing south­ern brown bandi­coots, red-tailed phasco­gales (small, car­niv­o­rous mar­su­pi­als) and western quolls.

Nat­u­ral Re­sources North­ern and Yorke man­ager of plan­ning and pro­grams Andy Sharp said it would bring a huge boost to agri­cul­ture and eco-tourism, along­side the pro­ject’s bio­di­ver­sity ben­e­fits.

“It’s about cre­at­ing a draw­card to at­tract vis­i­tors to south­ern Yorke, and also about pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for new tourism op­er­a­tions to start,” Dr Sharp said.

Un­der the pro­ject’s first stage, a fence run­ning north­south near Wa­rooka will iso­late a large part of the “foot” of the penin­sula and cre­ate a 130,000ha sanc­tu­ary.

Con­struc­tion is ex­pected to be­gin in about six weeks, and be fin­ished by June.

In about a decade’s time, the pro­ject part­ners hope to build a sec­ond, 30km fence, iso­lat­ing the penin­sula’s “an­kle” run­ning from near Stans­bury to Hard­wicke Bay, ex­tend­ing the to­tal sanc­tu­ary area to about 150,000ha.

The 1.8m-tall fences, with “floppy” tops to stop climb­ing cats, would fol­low cur­rent farm and other fence lines, with breaks where roads pass through. Fox and cat con­trols po­ten­tially in­clud­ing baits would be used along the fence to fur­ther re­duce the num­ber of pests en­ter­ing the sanc­tu­ary.

Pro­ject part­ners in­clud­ing Birdlife Aus­tralia, WWF and Zoos SA have se­cured $2.6 mil­lion from the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment, enough to build the first fence.

The to­tal cost of es­tab­lish­ing the sanc­tu­ary is ex­pected to be $17 mil­lion over 20 years.

Dr Sharp said more fund­ing would be sought through fundrais­ing cam­paigns, phi­lan­thropists and other sources.

“We’re ex­pect­ing the re­turns on the work we do to in­crease eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity by about $1.2 mil­lion per an­num, so it will very rapidly pay it­self off,” he said. A re­port on the pro­ject found nearly all of the area’s 29 orig­i­nal mam­mal species were lo­cally ex­tinct.

Re­turn­ing na­tive preda­tors such as barn owls and quolls is aimed at re­duc­ing plague pests such as mice and rab­bits.

“Barn owls will have sig­nif­i­cant im­pact … so it should im­prove agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties as well,” Dr Sharp said.

Brush-tailed bet­tongs would im­prove soil qual­ity.

“One of these lit­tle guys can turn over up to five tonnes of soil per an­num and that will in­crease the per­me­abil­ity of the soil to wa­ter,” he said.

“It also cre­ates lit­tle mi­cro­hab­i­tat sites for plant species.”

Flin­ders Univer­sity Prof Corey Bradshaw said the sanc­tu­ary would raise num­bers of “func­tion­ally ex­tinct” species – ones with tiny or cap­tive-only pop­u­la­tions – in “pre-Euro­pean-type habi­tats”.

FENCED OUT: Wild cats will be de­terred from the Great South­ern Ark sanc­tu­ary by a 23km fence across the Yorke Penin­sula, and in­set, red-tailed phasco­gales and brush-tailed bet­tongs will be pro­tected in the sanc­tu­ary.

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