Koala dog dies, other myths start to crumble

Tragic news this week with the death of Oscar, Dr Jim Shields ‘koala detection dog’ after being run over by a car in Port Macquarie. According to the Merimbula News ‘ . . . As far as Jim knows, Oscar was the only dog trained to find koalas and as people become more concerned about the plight of koalas, Oscar had more and more work from Rural Fire Service groups, prior to a burn, developers, prior to building and councils wanting to expand housing areas.’

Of course it was after spending years on the NSW Scientific committee supporting the myth that koalas can be found at low densities through out the south-east that Dr Shields got Oscar, to prove he was right. Regrettably this never occurred but undaunted Dr Shields, who indicates ‘I try to model my human relations and work ethic on Oscar . . ‘ will be getting another dog and we can only trust road sense forms part of the training.

It was Vic Jurskis who originally proposed using packs of unleashed dogs to find koalas and while Oscar was a toned down version of the proposal we now know that ‘previous studies have already shown hazard reduction burns have little effect during catastrophic fire conditions‘, so the whole notion of using a dog to find koala so burning can be undertaken to protect koalas, needs to be re-examined.

In that regard the OE&H are yet to fully respond to my requests for koala information, which may be just as well because I’ve got my own animal problems. The ‘waste’ timber I planned to use for the body of the ‘wobbly wombat’, ball in the middle is spun by the wheels, is taking far too long to dry and there is a risk that lateral shrinkage could lead to movement problems, so they’ll have to stay on the shelf for a while longer too.


Co-incidently Murdock University have recently released the results of studies confirming the relationship between the ‘loss of Australian digging mammals and ecosystem decline.’ Heading the research Associate Professor Trish Fleming
said “. . .Most Australian soils are nutrient-poor and are greatly dependant on external processes to support environmental health. Digging mammals play a vital role, creating disturbances in the form of nose pokes, scratchings, shallow and deep digs, long bull-dozing tracts and complex subterranean burrows.’

Consistent with reality Prof Fleming indicates ” . . . Australian ecosystems have been undergoing a massive loss of ecosystem processes, including higher tree mortality rates, episodic die-offs and general decline in the number and vitality of plant species.”

There seems little doubt that these negative outcomes are closely related to climate change and a few more myths will need to crumble before the penny drops in several groups, including the NSW government.


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