Spring 2003
Kangaroo Island

 

A Safe Haven for Native Wildlife
or
A Feral Paradise?

by
Neil Waters

Kangaroo Island can be found off the southern coast of South Australia and is about a 40 minute ferry journey from the mainland.     It is the third largest of Australia’s offshore islands, not including Tasmania.    It is some 120kms long by about 50kms wide and is haven for a number of species of native wildlife.    Because it is so easily accessible it has, in recent years, become something of a tourist ‘Mecca’. 

The last time I visited Kangaroo Island was in 1987, when I was only eighteen years old, and to say the least, things sure have changed!    I recently returned to the island for a ten day camping, fishing, sightseeing holiday and to relish all the natural beauty that the island has to offer. 

Firstly one can’t help but notice the busloads of tourists going over on the ferry, and ferry after ferry after ferry.     Seeing this tourism boom to the island makes it hard to understand just how unemployment can still be as bad as it is but then I suppose the tourism industry is a very narrow field and not everyone is into producing eucalyptus oil and honey.

Secondly, the facilities on the island have improved out of site.    There are a lot more sealed roads and a huge range of accommodation styles and in particular the National Parks headquarters in Flinders Chase, is first class.     Camping areas are well defined, there are hot showers, BBQ areas, toilets and the visitor information centre is well laid out and very informative.    It is very tourist friendly with an excellent restaurant, souvenir shop and displays.    One display in particular caught my attention.    It deals with the native animals of the island both past, including some prehistoric animals, and present, with an emphasis on modern history and vegetation clearance.     It was this display that gave me flashbacks to my previous trip in 1987.    I remembered how foxes and rabbits had been kept off the island enabling many native creatures that are not now found on the mainland, to flourish.

To the average person this sounds as though Kangaroo Island would be the last Eden for South Australia’s dwindling wildlife population.   Not so!

One thing that is not mentioned in any of those glossy brochures is the huge population of feral pigs, goats, cats and deer that inhabit the island.    Some of these were introduced nearly 200 years ago and have been wreaking havoc ever since.     Back in 1987 we took a walk down the Ravine Des Cosairs, which is French for ‘Valley of the Cassowaries’ (otherwise known as the ‘Kangaroo Island Dwarf Emu’ Dromaius novaehollandiae demenianus) and wherever we went we found an enormous amount of damage to the ground and flora by feral pigs.    We decided to do the same walk and take a look at the same area on this latest trip, and let me tell you, I was a bit nervous of what we might find.     I half expected a feral pig to stick it’s snout out from behind a kangaroo thorn bush at any moment.     Fortunately we had no such encounter but the damage to the valley floor, from one end to the other, was overwhelming.     Because the Kangaroo Island Dwarf Emu was a ground nesting bird it is my theory that the demise of this bird is likely to have been due to the feral pig disturbing and destroying the nesting sites.    I also theorise that the Dodo (Didus ineptus) suffered the same fate and was maybe not eaten out of existence by marooned sailors as previously thought.

History has shown that sailors/sealers/whalers used to take pigs with them as a staple food supply, and they either escaped or were set free, and anything on the ground is good tucker to the pig, especially eggs.

Co-incidentally the road from West Bay Road to the Playford Highway, which dissects the western end of Flinders Chase has been closed and the entire western end of the Park had been declared a “Wilderness Protection Area”.     One can’t help but wonder if this should be a “Tourist Protection Area” to avoid a nasty encounter with a feral pork roast!

At the time of my 1987 trip, the feral pig population was estimated to be around 5000 and with apparently little or no control, I can’t see how that number could be any smaller today.     When I enquired with one of the rangers at the Park headquarters about the culling of feral pigs, he was very vague and seemed reluctant to discuss it and I was surprised to learn that he knew nothing of any control programmes.     I suppose it’s understandable that they don’t want to scare off those tourist dollars.    Even so, maybe for a few days, or even a week, once a year they could turn off the tourist tap, shut the park and bring in the army for some real target practice.     On one of our fishing expeditions we sighted a small number of feral goats on a nearby hillside.    Had circumstances been different we might have had ‘kid on a spit’ that night (better than lamb I’m told), but it was not to be.

It is interesting to note that one of our tour operators told me that the local farmers cull about 40,000 Dama (or Tammar) Wallabies (Macropus eugenii) each year, although I obviously cannot vouch for this figure.      Whatever the figure is, it would be nice to see the same amount of enthusiasm poured into the control of feral pigs, cats, goats and deer.   This in itself would, I’m sure, help to protect the tourism industry.

On a more positive note we did see heaps of birdlife, many Echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus), Dama Wallabies (Macropus eugenii) and of course the ubiquitous Brush-tailed Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) who would raid our food supplies every chance they got.

The rivers on the island are pristine and the wine industry is just starting to take off.    So let us hope some controls are put in place, if they have not already done so, and avoid the problems we are now experiencing in parts of the Adelaide hills where, in summer, some rivers no longer flow.

 
Bennett's Wallaby
Juvenile NT Brushtail Possum
Swamp Wallaby
Golden Brushtail Possum
Red Kangaroos
Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies
Baby Squirrel Glider
Sugar Glider
Euro

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