You Yangs region Master Plan: Our response

You Yangs region Master Plan: Our response

1. Summary

The You Yangs Region has a proven track record as a significant, sought after destination for international travellers seeking high quality wildlife experiences. Currently over 10,000 international travellers visit the region each year to see, enjoy and help conserve wildlife in the wild!

A recent Branding Strategy commissioned by Tourism Greater Geelong and the Bellarine identified numerous stand-out assets the region offers including “the all natural exhilaration of a ‘wild and free’ oasis of (Australian) experiences, just a stone’s throw from the city.”

You Yangs on National Geographic Channel

The You Yangs Regional Park and Serendip Sanctuary are the major drawcards for this type of tourism yet both places are vastly undervalued for their potential to drive economic growth and community security in the region.

Recent research (1) shows that sustainably-managed Wildlife Tourism can be a major driving force in drawing local communities together, bringing respect for the environment coupled with consistent and reliable economic growth.

This document describes how the region can become an iconic Wildlife Tourism destination bringing high yielding, low impact visitors to Geelong, Victoria and Australia, thereby bringing pride, respect and income into the region.

A Conservation and Wildlife Tourism Zone and associated Tourism Hub have been identified as the best technique for bringing the region into focus as a Wildlife Tourism destination.

Aboriginal People continue to see the You Yangs as highly significant to their lives. Using our experience working with local Aboriginal People we have touched upon a few ideas that will include the Aboriginal Community in the ongoing process of defining the future of the region. NB – Our suggestions must been seen as requiring significant Aboriginal input and are included as a starting point only.

Finally, we have dealt with the impacts of Climate Change and suggested ways in which even this can be used to improve the offering that the You Yangs region can give the world.

We ask that Parks Victoria and the Project Control Group see this submission as a completely achievable plan to place the You Yangs region on the international stage thereby giving the region and the people who live in it a clearly-defined pathway to an exciting, profitable and sustainable future.

Echidna Walkabout Pty Ltd
September 2019

The Terms of Reference for the project can be found here. 

Our public request for submissions can be found here.

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DOCUMENT CONTENTS:
1. Summary
2. Overview – International Wildlife Tourism & Conservation
3. BRANDING : Serendip and the You Yangs
4. Wildlife Tourism Hub – Major Upgrade to the Toynes Road Entrance
5. Community Ownership – the Koala Clancy Foundation
6. Climate Change
7. Aboriginal Culture & Tourism
8. Linking the You Yangs & Serendip
9. LINKS, NOTES & REFERENCES: importance of Wildlife Tourism to local communities and economies

APPENDIX 1: YOU YANGS
APPENDIX 2: SERENDIP

You Yangs on Ray Mears TV UK
You Yangs koalas featured on a series of UK wildlife documentaries in 2017

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2. Overview – International Wildlife Tourism & Conservation

This document was created by Echidna Walkabout as a guideline to GHD Advisory for the You Yangs Region Master Plan. In it we suggest important changes to the way that You Yangs Regional Park and Serendip Sanctuary are managed to increase the region’s potential for economic development through International Wildlife Tourism linked to other strategies. At the apex of this concept is the creation of a Conservation and Wildlife Tourism Zone  A map of the proposal can be viewed here.

We have dealt with specific details in the body of this submission however in this Overview we highlight issues we believe urgently need addressing in the region to allow for sustainable growth through Branding, a Wildlife Tourism Hub, Community Ownership, Climate Change, Aboriginal Culture, a physical link between Serendip and the You Yangs.

Solid supporting international reference works are provided at the end of this Overview in 9. LINKS, NOTES & REFERENCES.

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3.  BRANDING: Serendip Sanctuary and the You Yangs

These two parks must be seen as inextricably linked not only due to their close proximity but also as they provide complementary attractions that reinforce the Brand Strategy for the region as defined only last year by the You Yangs Region Destination Promise for Tourism Greater Geelong and The Bellarine.

You Yangs Serendip on USA TV
Watching wild kangaroos at Serendip with Oprah Winfrey’s TV team in 2015

The branding paraphrased the region’s ‘offer’ as:

The You Yangs and surrounds offer the all natural exhilaration of a ‘wild and free’ oasis of (Australian) experiences, just a stone’s throw from the city.

The region must therefore become:

Victoria’s natural oasis in the urban jungle. A picturesque, untainted and
genuinely filmic region of Australia where native habitats, wildlife, cultures and communities, remain free to thrive and share their stories.

The defining principles of the brand are:

  • providing a natural oasis within easy reach of the Melbourne and Geelong.
  • wild and free connections to nature
  • ecological care and commitment to preservation (including responsible development)
  • a window into ancient and living/thriving indigenous culture

Using this Brand Strategy let’s turn to a plan that will help the brand become reality.

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4. Wildlife Tourism Hub – Major Upgrade to the Toynes Road Entrance

The region requires a focus point: wildlife tourism can provide that focus. The proposed upgrade to the Toynes Road access on the eastern side of the You Yangs recognises the significance of this section of the park to wildlife conservation and wildlife tourism.

We believe this ‘hub’ will:

  • significantly raise the profile of the region for wildlife tourism
  • provide urgently needed facilities for conservation and wildlife tourism
  • help control vandalism in this section of the park
  • allow better access for emergency vehicles into the park

This document outlines a technique for creating the Hub (see APPENDIX 1C. Access & Wildlife Tourism Hub below)

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You Yangs Koala Clancy on Australia instagram
The You Yangs’ most famous koala: Clancy on Australia’s instagram for Wild Koala Day 2018

5. Community Ownership: the Koala Clancy Foundation

Echidna Walkabout and our not-for-profit Koala Clancy Foundation, have been deeply involved in protecting, monitoring and conserving koalas in the You Yangs.

We have estimated that, at an absolute minimum, each koala in the You Yangs is worth $20,000 to tourism in the region.

Each tour gains insights and valuable research on the koalas in the park which is used to help understand the conservation needs of these marsupials. This research has allowed the Koala Clancy Foundation (KCF) to identify required conservation efforts for the ongoing protection of these very valuable animals.

A number of years ago KCF reached out and invited the local community to be involved in a major conservation, boneseed removal and tree planting program in and around the You Yangs. The response has been far more than we could ever expected with both townsfolk and farmers becoming involved. As a result:

  • Ninety percent of established noxious weed, Boneseed – a weed of national importance, has been removed in the 100 hectare Branding Yard area.  The secondary regrowth is now being targeted.  It is estimated that 1.5 million weeds have been removed by this program.
  • 7,500+ native trees have been planted by Koala Clancy Foundation in partnership with Melbourne Water along streams and rivers on the plains surrounding the You Yangs – these allow koalas access to high quality food sites and ensure the future of the species in the region.
  • Pride is growing in the region with regular highly-attended, booked-out Koala Conservation Days. The growth in attendance has increased exponentially with both locals and corporate involvement from companies including KPMG, Aesop, the Australian Defence Force, Get Lost Travel Group, Venture Advisory, Pearson Educational Publishing, British American Tobacco; and educational groups from Wyndham City Council, Albert Park College, Emmaus College, Deakin University, Rowville High School, Monash University and RMIT.
  • International support has come from unique sources including large financial contributions from some of the world’s largest cruise ship companies and numerous wholesale travel companies

We will continue with this very important outreach to the community with the clear aim of giving local people ownership of the koalas in the You Yangs.

community group volunteering YOu Yangs
Local community volunteer group in the You Yangs

map showing boneseed removal in You Yangs

tree planting by community volunteers near You Yangs
Native tree planting at Wurdi Youang by Koala Clancy Foundation volunteers

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6. Climate Change

Over the past 20 years we have witnessed a dramatic downturn in the following natural systems in the You Yangs region:

  • Stream flows have reduced dramatically eg. Lake Serendip was usually full or had at least some water in it, now it is dry most of the time; waterholes and streams in the You Yangs that were reliable now rarely contain water,
  • Koala numbers in the You Yangs have plummeted by 46% in the decade 2007 to 2017 and continue to decline.
  • Vegetation is dying back or disappearing especially in the You Yangs. River Red Gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis, a long-lived species, and koala’s most preferred food tree in the You Yangs, is dying and declining across the Park.
  • Birds of dry schlerophyll woodlands are declining – particularly parrots, hollow-nesters including Laughing Kookaburras, Brown & White-throated Treecreepers; finches, insectivores including Scarlet Robin & Jacky Winter, and woodland specialists like Black-chinned Honeyeater & Yellow Thornbill.  See BirdLife Australia State of Australian Birds. 
  • Average day and night temperatures are increasing and annual rainfall is reducing
  • Extreme multi-day heat events are increasing and are having a serious impact on wildlife that stuck within the boundaries of the You Yangs park. This is particularly noticeable amongst arboreal mammals (koalas and possums) and smaller bird species
  • The Millennium Drought had an influence on the biodiversity of the region and there is reason to believe that complete recovery will not occur.
River Red Gum tree comparison 2008 to 2015 climate change killing trees
The same River Red Gum tree in the You Yangs 2008 to 2015. Many mature trees in the You Yangs have experienced similar climate change-induced dieback.
Koala decline graph You Yangs
Decline of wild koalas in one You Yangs research area over 11 years.

These are all the signs of Climate Change as predicted by the IPCC and are very concerning for the future of the You Yangs region, in particular with wildlife tourism.

The Climate Council of Australia’s recent report: Icons at Risk: Climate Change threatening Australian Tourism is a sobering investigation of major risks to tourism caused by higher temperatures, major shifts in weather patterns, lower rainfall over much of Australia, species loss and extinction and other factors.

Another issue which is of growing significance to inbound tourism is the carbon cost of international flights. ‘Flight shaming’ is a growing concern to international travellers ie, if you travel long distances by air you can be seen as a ‘carbon emitter’ or ‘carbon hog’ which is becoming more of a concern to many travellers, especially those from Europe and Scandinavia.

Recent Climate Strike marches across the world are a powerful indicator of the way people are feeling about human-induced increases in CO2 emissions. On tours our passengers often want to know what we are doing to reduce our emissions and care for the environment.

At Echidna Walkabout we are showing leadership with our “Conservation Travel: Help nature while you enjoy it” initiatives; plus we help resolve these issues in the following ways:

  • Koala Clancy Foundation & Echidna Walkabout are helping to recover damaged public land and vegetation, through weed removal and tree planting. Tree planting not only provides habitat for wildlife, but also these trees act as a carbon sink ie. they can be used as a carbon offset. Tour participants become directly involved in restoring koala habitat whilst on tour thereby assisting directly with koala conservation and adding value to the local economy by ensuring that koalas will continue to draw tourism dollars into the region in the future.
  • The high yielding international Wildlife Tourism market tends to reduce rather than increase numbers on a tour (2). As Melbourne and Geelong expand the You Yangs region is in danger of being ‘loved to death’ by visitors. Visitor numbers to the region have exploded over the past 10 years, doubling in some years. We advocate for fewer visitors, paying more for goods & services, staying longer and bringing higher benefit to the region, in terms of income and reduced impact on the parks and CO2 emissions.
  • In the Branding Yard area a water point was set up a number of years back to test if it can assist in supporting wildlife especially during extreme multi-day heat events.  This water point is filled by Echidna Walkabout staff on a weekly basis. We can show that wildlife is using this water point and that it is assisting the survival of both mammals and birds. This idea comes directly out of similar ideas in African national parks and should be expanded in the You Yangs.
  • Wildlife Tourism will assist the You Yangs region deal with Climate Change (3). This provides a significant and unique marketing identity for the region as it fits in well with people’s desire to travel responsibly and with the Brand Strategy discussed earlier.

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7. Aboriginal Culture & Tourism

For the entire 26 year existence of Echidna Walkabout we have worked closely with Aboriginal People. Before the business began, we gained approval from the local elders of the Wathaurong People to operate in their region. Our operations were carefully monitored by them before they gave approval to our operations in 1993.

Since that time we have worked closely with the local Aboriginal community and have employed, and continue to employ, Aboriginal People as guides, drivers, koala researchers and as Aboriginal interpreters. We have also been involved in Aboriginal Employment forums in Geelong.

We have a meaningful ongoing relationship with a number of local Aboriginal People. One specific example of our work with the Aboriginal Community over many years is at the Wurdi Youang site on the plains east of the You Yangs where the Koala Clancy Foundation has planted thousands of trees along the Little River by invitation and in collaboration with the managers of that very important ceremonial site.

7a. Wurdi Youang

This site is extremely important and has significant potential to attract cultural tourism to the region. A number of detailed reports have been produced that detail how the site could be used for tourism, learning and training activities. We urge you to consider this information and suggest that a union between international wildlife tourism and Aboriginal tourism would be a big win for the region. We have shown that this type of collaboration works and endorse any action that increases respectful enhancement of Aboriginal tourism in the You Yangs region.

7b. Aboriginal employment opportunities

Great potential exists in the region for employment of Aboriginal People as follows:

  • Educators & Guides : we employ local Aboriginal People as Guides, Researchers and Educators. We’d like to see these activities expand so that Aboriginal People can continue to be trained into tourism.
  • ‘Bush Rangers’ : a support group could be set up to train Aboriginal People as Bush Rangers (ie Bush Guides). These people would learn about cross-cultural interpretation from both Indigenous and non-indigenous people. Along with existing Indigenous Knowledge these Bush Rangers would become both important interpreters of the You Yangs as well as a behind-the-scenes support team. Similar programs to this have worked in Kakadu National Park with some people working behind the scenes and others working with visitors.
  • Wildlife Research : we currently employ Koala Researchers, some of whom are Aboriginal People, to monitor and provide important field information on koalas identification, movements and home ranges in the You Yangs. This work is ongoing and significant and must continue.

We believe that Parks Victoria is well placed to assist with a Bush Ranger program that would help visitors to appreciate and understand the cultural significance of the You Yangs to Aboriginal People. This program would significantly enhance the current tourism offers into the region and would would also be a significant stepping stone for tours emanating out of Wurdi Youang.

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8. Linking the You Yangs & Serendip Sanctuary

Various ideas and proposals have been put forward regarding a physical link or corridor between the You Yangs and Serendip Sanctuary. In the context of the You Yangs Region there is no doubting that this corridor is needed both for people and for wildlife. Here are our suggestions:

8a. Wildlife Corridor

A wildlife corridor should be created along the watercourse that runs out of the You Yangs just east of the Main Entrance to the park and southward to enter Serendip Sanctuary just west of the rear entrance gate on Plains Road.  Trees planted along watercourses are most likely to survive and provide refugia for wildlife.

A 50 metre wide corridor planting of native trees and shrubs (local to that area) could be planted along the watercourse.

Negotiations for the creation of the corridor would be carried out by the City of Greater Geelong and the planting done and maintained by the local community. Koala Clancy Foundation would be happy to help.

Special attention would need to be made to facilitate wildlife crossings at Plains and Branch Roads.

8b. Human Corridor

The corridor for human movement between the two parks could be combined with the Wildlife Corridor but should only be on the edge of the corridor (not in the middle) and only be for walking as bike riding may not be conducive to protecting wildlife.

Another option would be to create a bike path along Flinders Avenue.
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9. LINKS, NOTES & REFERENCES:

(1) The World Bank : Growing Wildlife-Based Tourism Sustainably: A New Report and Q&A (2018)
BRIEF
“While wildlife and biodiversity are increasingly threatened by habitat loss and a lack of funding for protection, nature-based tourism is on the rise and could help provide solutions for these issues.
The publication Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods through Wildlife Tourism highlights successful wildlife tourism programs in seven countries in Africa and Asia that can be used as models to promote conservation and boost economies.
World Bank lead economist Richard Damania answers questions on the drivers, innovations and challenges for wildlife tourism, and why the World Bank Group and governments should support sustainable tourism strategies.”

FULL ARTICLE:  https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2018/03/01/growing-wildlife-based-tourism-sustainably-a-new-report-and-qa

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(2) United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO): Towards Measuring the Economic Value of Wildlife Watching Tourism in Africa (2015)
Relevant Extract – page 3
“The exercise has also been successful in identifying key indicators related to wildlife watching tourism that assist in measuring the segment’s economic importance and potential growth. For instance, a typical wildlife watching tour involves on average a group of six people, lasts 10 days, has an average daily price per person of US$ 433 and captures an additional US$ 55 in out-of-pocket expenses per person, per day. The findings also indicated the differences between standard and luxury segments with the greatest variation being in both average daily price per person per day (US$ 753 for a luxury package and US$ 243 for a standard package) and in out-of-pocket expenditures (US$ 59 for a traveller on a luxury package and US$ 44 per person per day on a standard package). Little variation was found between the segments related to the size of the group or the average length of stay which seem to be consistent characteristics of the wildlife watching product instead of factors directly related to the comfort of the experience”

FULL ARTICLE: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/1882unwtowildlifepaper.pdf

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(3) The World Bank: Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods through Wildlife Tourism (2018)
ABSTRACT
Tourism is an engine for jobs, exports, and investments. The tourism sector is also the largest, global, market-based contributor to financing protected area systems. Nature-based tourism (NBT) is a sub-component of the tourism sector that includes wildlife-based tourism. NBT is a powerful tool countries can leverage to grow and diversify their economies while protecting their biodiversity, and contributing to many sustainable development goals (SDG). Local communities, private sector enterprises, and governments can also benefit from investments in tourism through increased market opportunities and linkages to tourism services such as agriculture production, hoteling, restaurants, transportation, health services, etc. This report explores innovative tourism partnership and investment opportunities to help countries unlock smart investment and grow tourism sustainably. It showcases sustainable wildlife tourism models from Botswana, India, Kenya, South Africa and many other countries and promotes solutions that offer insight into the wildlife based tourism sector as a mechanism for inclusive poverty reduction and global conservation.

FULL ARTICLE: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1BLmgaOCVPZRl_snTtxgzZdeZSmD149XO/view?usp=sharing

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(4) United Nations Environment Program (UNEP): Building a Wildlife Economy (2019)
EXTRACT
“Recent decades have seen strong “country brands” emerge where nature, and nature-based tourism, are used to promote national values, appeal to investors, and generally increase the country or region’s international profile. Growth in tourism is typically accompanied by better economic performance overall: those countries with well-developed tourism sectors score better in a range of economic metrics including Foreign Direct Investment, exports, and employment. The positive perceptions that nature-based tourism branding generates therefore represent an important opportunity for African countries [and other countries] to market themselves to the world, and deliver a wider economic and political agenda.”

FULL ARTICLE: https://spaceforgiants.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Building-Africas-Wildlife-Economy-Space-for-Giants-Working-Paper-1.pdf

— End Overview —
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The following two appendices deal separately with specific concepts for both the You Yangs and Serendip

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APPENDIX 1: You Yangs

1a. Conservation & Wildlife Tourism Zone

We have proposed a Conservation and Wildlife Tourism Zone for the You Yangs. See map:

You Yangs proposed wildlife tourism conservation zone map

We suggest the following general principles for the management of this Zone:

  • The Zone should be managed with the express intention of securing the long term biodiversity of native wildlife and vegetation in the Zone allowing high quality international wildlife tourism to be carried out in the Zone
  • The Zone will be widely promoted in the region as a source of ongoing economic benefit to the region through employment and services to the tourism and associated industries. Wildlife should be promoted as an asset that needs protection if it is to produce viable economic outcomes (2)
  • Dog walking will continue to be allowed but all dogs MUST be on a leash and controlled. Special signage should be increased in the zone to explain the reasons for dog control.
  • In the Branding Yard section (inside the locked BYR gates) all human access will be on foot except for vehicles operated by LTO’s, PV and emergency vehicles.
  • No bikes or biking events in the Branding Yard section and no additional bike tracks within the entire Zone.
  • At least 3 artificial waterholes/sites be identified and located in the Branding Yard area and one in the Fawcetts Gully area (similar to sites found in wildlife tourism zones in east and southern African national parks that recognise that wildlife that has been cut off from movements by farming, clearing and other activities often require intervention in the form of artificial water sources.)
  • A major ongoing effort be undertaken to reduce goat and other feral animals in the Zone with particular attention placed on foxes and cats regardless of whether they re-infest.
  • Continuing eradication of Boneseed and other noxious weeds
  • Only low impact wildlife tours will be allowed in the Zone
  • A maximum number of LTO’s allowed access to the Zone
  • LTO’s may need to provide evidence of their conservation credentials/ethics to gain access to the Zone

1b. Gateway Towns – Lara and Little River

We have identified the east and south side of the You Yangs as having the greatest potential for wildlife tourism in the region. As such we therefore believe that the region requires town-based hubs as the proposed gateways to wildlife tourism. Both Little River and Lara are strong candidates for these hubs with Little River probably best located to act as the primary hub to the You Yangs east face and Lara to Serendip and the south face of the You Yangs.

These two towns are very different and are in separate Council areas which can be of benefit to both towns. Each will have different reasons and potential outcomes for being involved in Wildlife Tourism and each can gain significantly by being involved. It has been shown in a number of countries that the creation of protected wildlife tourism zones (be they publicly or privately operated) has a significant economic and social benefit to the wider community. (4)

1c. Access & Wildlife Tourism Hub

The main access to the You Yangs at present is the entrance off Branch Road. In the interests of increasing the park’s ability to handle international wildlife tourism here are our suggestions:

1c.1. Toynes Road Entrance upgrade

The Branding Yard area of the You Yangs is a significant and growing wildlife tourism precinct. We have proposed that this area become part of a Conservation and Wildlife Tourism Zone. Toynes Road gives direct access to this area and to some of the best wildlife in the wild viewing opportunities in the Melbourne/Geelong region. This is a brief outline of how this entrance can be upgraded to both increase the quality of wildlife tourism and reduce vandalism in this section of the park:

  • Work with City of Greater Geelong to upgrade Toynes Road to allow for better all-weather access to the Toynes Rd gate – ie. stabilise and upgrade the camber of the road surface, improve and upgrade culverts and drainage etc.(NB. roadside vegetation along Toynes Rd is important bird habitat; roadworks should minimise impact on this vegetation)
  • Also CoGG should assist with the creation of a new public carpark on the outside of the park in close proximity to Toynes Rd main gate (see 1h. Carparks)
  • Create a Tourism Support Hub (TSH) inside the park near the junction of the Toynes Road, Great Circle Drive and Branding Yard Road (north entrance). This TSH would be behind the existing locked gate at the entrance to Branding Yard Road north (not to be confused with the Toynes Rd gate) and would contain:
    – A picnic area (see 1f. Picnic areas)
    – A vehicle parking area suitable for mini coaches (see 1h. Car Parks)
    – A new toilet facility (see 1e. Toilets)
    The TSH would have two main zones:
    – one zone would be for licenced tour operators (and designated thus by signage)
    – the other zone would be for the general public
    – the toilet facility would be for both types of users
  • The Branding Yard Rd north gate would only be accessible by LTO’s, PV and emergency vehicles
  • If possible implement a new access gate system similar to the Branch Road Main Entrance gate at Toynes Road with access by phone number – the existing gate is very cumbersome
  • Continue to allow access to the Toynes Rd gate only to keyholders not to the general public.
  • Install a new pedestrian/bike access gate into the park at this entrance.

1c.2. Cressy Gully Road entrance upgrade

Cressy road is underutilised and could become a significant entrance to the park as it gives access to Great Circle Drive at an earlier point than Toynes Rd. An upgrade to this entrance, and the road itself (see Roads), would allow better access to the whole eastern side of the park. It would also facilitate easy access for Indigenous tours moving between Wurdi Youang and the eastern side of the You Yangs. Here are a few suggestions:

  • The entrance gate off Drysdale Rd should be closed for use (except by PV staff).
    Access to Cressy Gully should be re-routed via a locked gate accessible from the Drysdale Road Carpark. This gate should remain accessible to key holder only.
  • The gate at the junction of Cressy Gully Road and Great Circle Drive is dangerous. A flat stopping area for vehicles should be constructed on Cressy Gully Rd so that vehicles can stop temporarily while the gate is opened. This gate should remain locked and accessible only to keyholders.

 

1d. Roads

Roads in the park are in urgent need of upgrade and repair. Verges on the main entrance road/Turntable Drive are eroding badly and potholes form regularly after heavy rain. The same applies to Big Rock Road. Repairs and widening to the tarmac on both these roads should be a priority. Maximum speed on all roads in the park should be 40kph. Signage should point out the reason for speed controls with emphasis placed on the protection of wildlife assets living in the park. Other roads that we are interested in are discussed below:

1d.1 Great Circle Drive (GCD)

  • Any upgrades should be designed to ensure that the maximum speed on the drive is no greater than 40kph. This will ensure that wildlife is protected from car strike – this is particularly important in regards to koalas.
  • Signs should be erected to advise drivers to look out for wildlife and to advise of penalties for speeding
  • GCD should remain one way from the current start and finish points (NB suggestion below re updated access to the park from Toynes Rd and via Cressy Gully Rd
  • Cycle races must not be carried out on GCD

 

1d.2 Branding Yard Road (BYR)

This road is an important wildlife viewing access road

  • Vehicle access to BYR should remain limited to selected key holders
  • Maximum speed should be 20kph
  • Two way traffic should still be allowed on this road for it to be used successfully as a wildlife viewing road (I can provide reasons for this if required).
  • New gates should be installed at either end of BYR (see also 1c. Access & Wildlife Tourism Hub)
  • BYR requires very little upgrade except for the sloped section near the Bunjil Geoglyph, some general maintenance of drains and gutters and some very minor tree lopping to allow vehicles to move along the road
  • Maximum vehicle passenger capacity on BYR should be 25 people
  • No competitive bike riding should be allowed along Branding Yard Road

1d.3 Cressy Gully Road (CGR)

This road is currently highly vulnerable to erosion during heavy rain but could also be a valuable access point both for Wildlife Tours and Indigenous Cultural Tours

  • Consolidation and drainage works could improve the quality of CGR with some possible minor configurations/alignment also required
  • Access gates at either end of this road require attention as they are both dangerous and awkward to use (see Access). The gate allowing access onto GCD is particularly dangerous as vehicles must stop on a steep slope while drivers open the gate
  • Access should remain to authorised keyholders only

1e. Toilets

Conveniences in the park are at a very low state of repair with urgent upgrades and repairs required plus the establishment of a new toilet. These changes will bring the park into alignment with requirements by major cruise ship companies and tour operators as well as provide the general public with better and more hygienic facilities.

1e.1 Existing facilities

  • The Visitor Centre toilet should be replaced with a modern facility with a minimum of 6 women’s cubicles, a significantly larger men’s urinal and at 3 cubicles
  • The toilets at Kurrajong Picnic Area MUST be replaced urgently – quite simply they are a disgrace and a major health hazard. Water should also be supplied to these toilets if possible
  • The Big Rock toilet is relatively new and seems to be coping reasonably well
  • The Lower Picnic Ground toilet should be replaced with a similar structure to the one suggested for the Visitor Centre as it is a site visited by many people.
  • The Turntable Carpark facility needs and overhaul and possible upgrade as it does not appear to be able to cope with the large amount of traffic it receives
  • The Valley Picnic Ground toilet could do with an upgrade too

1e.2 Proposed new facility

Assuming that we enter the park from Toynes Rd (which we do): due to the one way direction of GCD we cannot stay longer than about an hour in the Branding Yard area before we need to head over to the Turntable area for passengers to find bathroom relief – we are then unable to return to Branding Yard without travelling around GCD. It’s worth noting here that the entire eastern side of the park has no bathroom facilities.

We therefore propose that a new bathroom facility be built at the following two locations:

  • Near the northern entrance to Branding Yard Road. This facility would be of a high quality and similar to the one at the Visitor Centre but with 3 cubicles for women, a urinal and 1 cubicle for men.
  • A second facility should be built near the location of a new picnic area in the Branding Yard Rd vicinity – if this picnic area is located near the north entrance to Branding Yard Rd a second toilet would not be required.

1f. Picnic areas

Picnic areas generally in the You Yangs are in urgent need of attention and upgrading. These are the key changes that we propose:

1f.1 Existing

The Kurrajong facility should be used as a basis for the design of other picnic areas. The tables and hard surface make the area very easy to use and the roof allows it to be used in most weather conditions. Similar set ups of a lesser and/or greater size should be created at the following locations – all should be roofed:

  • Big Rock Picnic Ground (possibly two at this location as it is heavily used)
  • Yellow-Gum Picnic Ground
  • Turntable Car Park??
  • Fawcetts Gully. Rotten and damaged picnic tables must be replaced urgently
  • The facility in the Lower Picnic Ground should be upgraded and duplicated.
  • The Valley Picnic Ground is one of the most beautiful in the park and could do with a significant upgrade both to the picnic tables themselves and to the toilet block. More trees and shrubs could be planted in the VPA. A larger groups picnic table with roof could also be placed in this area

Fireplaces should be removed entirely to protect the You Yangs from fire (we have extinguished numerous unattended fires in fireplaces in the You Yangs over the years)

1f.2 New Picnic areas – Branding Yard

Toynes Gate – Branding Yard: A significant picnic area should be created in a location close to Toynes Road entrance to the park. This would be roofed, set in a pleasant location and capable of seating 20 to 40 people under a roof (or roofs). The set up would be designed to:

  • accommodate small scale tour operations
  • have a nearby toilet
  • have a carpark big enough to accommodate minibuses
  • preferably have a watering point

A smaller ‘basic’ picnic area for 10 to 20 people should be created near the waterholes near the junction of Branding Yard Rd and Saddleback Track. This would also be roofed but would not require a toilet and would also be designed for tour groups.

1g. Cafe/food outlets

Some consideration and much debate has gone on over many years into whether a cafe or similar commercial outlet should be opened in the You Yangs. It is our contention that this would be possible as long as it is located directly inside the Branch Road entrance to park on the east side of the entrance road between the Duck Ponds School and Branch Road. The Duck Ponds School could be associated with the cafe but not necessarily incorporated into the structure. A significant car park will be required to be built either just outside the park or just within it for cars using the cafe. The cafe should close when the park closes.

1h. Carparks

Car parking in the You Yangs has become a significant problem as visitor numbers increase and existing carparks degrade. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Visitor Centre – urgently needs to be redefined consolidated with a non erosive surface. A large bus/coach parking area for short term parking for at least one large coach needs to be defined
  • Yellow Gums – needs to be repaired, surfaced consolidated and the two access points better defined and widened
  • Lower Picnic Ground – is subject to major erosion after heavy rain which can make certain section of the carpark unuseable. This entire area needs to be hard surfaced with defined parking bays
  • Big Rock – this carpark gives access to a major Aborignal site and is an important picnic ground. Because it is located at a dead end the Big Rock carpark can be problematic especially for larger tour vehicles (coaches). The turntable at the end of the road is not big enough to accommodate a large coach and needs to be big enough to allow a large coach to turn around. The small vehicle carparks should be sealed and parking bays defined.
  • Kurrajong – once again this carpark is subject to erosion after heavy rain and should be consolidated

..

APPENDIX 2: Serendip Sanctuary

map of Serendip Sanctuary near You Yangs

2a. Wildlife Tourism & Conservation

Serendip Sanctuary is a major component of the Wildlife Tourism in the region – it has been described as “the pendulum that keeps the You Yangs clock ticking”. The significance of the sanctuary to the region cannot be overemphasised especially its population of wild Eastern-grey kangaroos – these macropods – and the sanctuary as a whole – are a critical component of our tours and have been for over 26 years.

It is vital to our operation that Serendip retains its raw and wild feeling and that the kangaroos are allowed to keep roaming in the park (we do understand that at times there may need to be some controls put in place to ensure that the kangaroo population does not get too high) Any changes that upset the fine balance that the kangaroos of Serendip have with the park and its environs will almost certainly mean that they will leave and that will be the end of our use of the sanctuary and possibly the region as a whole – that is how important Serendip is!

Here are some preliminary thoughts on how the Sanctuary should be used in the future:

  • Many parts of the park have a “wild and remote” feel (as described by international tourists) and it is important that this feeling is retained, especially on the western side of the park
  • The current grasslands must be retained. This means that no further tree planting should occur in the park. Over the past decade large swathes of the sanctuary have been planted with trees wiping out grasslands that we used.
  • There has been talk of a walking/bike route through Serendip. To avoid disturbing wildlife we do not believe that a bike or walking path contiguous with the outside of the park should be constructed through the sanctuary UNLESS it follows a route that avoids the front entrance paddock and keeps east of the lake (ie. does not use the western section of the ring road). The exit point could be near the rear gate on Plains Rd.
  • Most importantly, Serendip is a Sanctuary and must NOT be considered as an adventure destination for bikers, joggers or runners or as a multi-use public park for events, music festivals etc. If this happens the park will lose its integrity. Serendip has always been, and should remain, a peaceful haven for wildlife watching and appreciation and must remain that way for it to be of any benefit to wildlife tourism. See the section about Branding on the first page of this document for more details on how this works.
  • The Ring Road should remain available only to LTO vehicles and PV staff
  • The front entrance paddock should continue to be available to LTO’s only with no modifications at all. This paddock is vital to our cruise ship operations.
  • The western side of the sanctuary is used primarily by our small group tours and is a place where our guests and guides can lose themselves in the beauty of the Australian bush.
  • Serendip has a long history of conserving endangered wildlife and plants – this part of its activities should be reawakened and built upon as many visitors to the sanctuary would be happy to meet, be involved with and look into the conservation efforts of the facility. Many of our guests would pay to see and learn about these activities.
  • Serendip urgently needs to consider upgrading its staffing to include a number of ‘roving guides’ who will help people appreciate the place by taking guided walks through the enclosures and helping both young and old understand how important biodiversity and conservation are. (see also Aboriginal employment)
  • The ‘walk through’ areas of Serendip are degrading rapidly which is a travesty in the making as they showcase some of our least seen and most important wildlife of the region. These areas urgently need repairs and upgrades.
  • Weed and pest control is a serious problem for Serendip and must be undertaken.
  • Funding to undertake this important work should be a priority
  • Water is the key to Serendip’s success – every effort should be made to ensure that sanctuary has an ongoing supply of both surface and underground water.
aerial photograph of Serendip Sanctuary 2019
Aerial photograph of Serendip Sanctuary 2019. Note encroachment by housing, and how formerly-extensive grasslands and water in Lake Serendip have almost disappeared.

2b. Access

The sanctuary is primarily accessible from Windemere Road but there is another very useful access point from the rear of the park off Plains Road. Here are some ideas:

  • The front gate at Serendip should be replaced with the same type of gate used at the main entrance to the You Yangs. As we regularly use the park after closing hours this would make access far easier and require less keys.
  • The rear entrance to the park is currently protected using a very badly damaged gate and grid. This should be upgraded to a reinforced heavy duty gate and the gate posts moved further apart to allow larger vehicle access to this entrance. This would benefit both wildlife tourism and assist with egress in the case of bushfire.
  • Both access points should be only available to confirmed keyholders including LTO’s who have been vetted to ensure they will care for the sanctuary when it is unstaffed.

2c. Roads & fences

The Ring Road is holding up reasonably well for our tour vehicles however we’d like to suggest a few modifications/upgrades:

  • The turn beside the works shed is very tight. Can this turn be made less difficult by removing some of the obstacles in this area?
  • The drain under the Ring Road on the northernmost section of the road is subject to erosion after rain and could be widened a little if possible
  • There are too many fences and enclosures that do nothing in the sanctuary, many of which should be removed as they are unsightly, however the fences around the front entrance paddock and the public picnic area should remain to prevent unwanted access to sensitive wildlife viewing zones

2d. Toilets

The main carpark toilet urgently requires an upgrade; tiles are falling off the walls, toilets regularly become blocked and there are not enough cubicles. We suggest that the existing block be extended and renovated or replaced. There should be at least 6 cubicles in the woman’s toilet and 3 in the mens room plus a large urinal. There should also be much better serviced handwashing facilities and at least 2 external drinking fountains.

2e. Picnic areas

Main Carpark – this picnic area needs renovations to tables and seating and possibly an extension to the current covered area.

Dedicated Group BBQ area for tours – this area is extremely important to us as a tour operator and has been left to disintegrate over the years. It requires a major overhaul with particular attention to:

  • The privacy fence – it should be repaired to keep the natural ‘boma’ feel
  • Tables and chairs need to be updated for up to 40 people
  • New roof to cover at least 25 people – possible ‘sail’ type?
  • This area should only available to pre-booked groups and therefore lockable
  • Access from the main carpark to this area should be available (with a locked gate to ensure others do not use it)

NEW Large Group Area – in the cruise ship season we regularly bring up to 120 people into the sanctuary for lunches and occasional dinners. At present we arrange for a marquee to be erected in the main carpark however if a dedicated area could be set aside, not too far from the toilet block, to do this it would make life much easier. We’d like to work with PV to bring this to fruition.

2f. Cafe/food outlet

There is little doubt that a cafe within Serendip would be profitable but it would need to be very carefully sited so that it did not interfere with the wonderful wild feel of the sanctuary. A good location for this could be to the north of the Eastern-barred Bandicoot enclosure beside the entrance walk looking over the duck ponds OR where the old office building was. It should not be too far from the toilets or, if that is unavoidable, a new toilet facility may be needed.

A cafe that could cater for 40 to 50 people would definitely be of interest to the tourism industry as long as it is low key, quiet, well designed and provides good quality meals.

2g. Carpark

The current main carpark at Serendip works reasonably well. The main matter that we are interested in is that we will continue to have access to the north eastern section of the carpark for our marquees for large groups.
___________________________________________________________________________
ENDS

A brief history of Echidna Walkabout’s involvement in the lead up to the Business Plan.

This history may throw some light on the when, where, why and how of the report.

8th March 2017 – First major email to Justin Vaughan (Manager Visitor Planning and Visitor Engagement and Conservation Division – Parks Victoria) about our proposal. As an historical record this is an important document, (note that preliminary discussions about this matter began in the Winter of 2016). A map of the proposed Conservation and Wildlife Tourism Zone was included with this email

15th March 2018 – A number of meetings occurred in the ensuing year including a joint meeting on this date between the Directors of Echidna Walkabout and Ministerial Advisors to the Minister for Tourism and the Minister for the Environment.

5th September 2018 – A 2 page Summary of Potential titled “Conservation & Wildlife Tourism Zone” was submitted to the Minister for Tourism, John Eren as required by the Minister for the Environment. Also included in the Summary was the original map along with numerous high quality links that gave weight to the proposal

4th October 2018Response from Minister Eren to the above

8th June 2019 – One of Echidna Walkabout’s most significant emails to Paul Wallace (District Manager Western Basalt Region – Parks Victoria). Sent just prior to GHD being awarded the contract to produce the Master Plan. Here we voice – once again – our concern that International Wildlife Tourism is not mentioned in any supporting information about the Master Plan.

The only hope for our wild koalas is The Greens

The only hope for our wild koalas is The Greens

A personal perspective, from a wild koala researcher.

I’ve been working with wild koalas most of my life. For the first 15 years, it was pure joy. The last 13 years has been a mixture of sadness, desperation, fear, and brief moments of joy.

Climate change is killing my life’s work.

I first noticed that my wild koala population was declining before 2005. I didn’t know why – there were plenty of trees, the climate was mild*. Then in 2006 we had a bushfire rip through our koala community and everything stopped for me.

It took me 2 years to recover from deep sadness, from breaking down in tears for no reason. We started again, in the You Yangs, but I was terrified of fire. All I could think about was how to prevent that soul-eating, happiness-destroying event from ever happening again.

Its been 13 years, and we haven’t had a fire. But we’re living through a catastrophe that I couldn’t have imagined.

Greens will act on climate change

..

Climate change is killing the thing I love best.

In 2008 a scientific paper came out that showed what was killing my koalas. It was climate change. Clear and unequivocal. Carbon dioxide is stripping the nutrition out of the leaves. Heat and dryness are reducing the water content. Koalas will starve.

“I’m sure we’ll see koalas disappearing from their current range even though we don’t see any change in tree species or structure of the forests.“ Emeritus Professor Ian Hume, University of Sydney, 2008

In 2009 – 2010 we lost a third of our wild You Yangs koalas. It was the fourteenth year of the worst drought in Australia’s history. Once again, I was helpless to save them.

We had a reprieve in late 2010 with decent rains. But we are back in drought, worse than before, because the forest never fully recovered.

Wild Koalas need the Greens
Young male koala Lluvia stares at a drying waterhole in the You Yangs

When I walk through the forest now I see dying trees. Hundreds of them. Dying from dryness. I can’t water them – they are 100 to 400 year old eucalypts, with vast root systems underground.

In 2016 we started planting trees in river systems around the You Yangs. They will only take five years to grow big enough to feed a koala. If we plant many thousands of trees, the koalas of the You Yangs will move down the gullies and live there. It might give them another 5 or 10 years.

By 2030 the climate needs to be starting to improve, or else my koalas won’t make it, no matter how many trees we plant. That means we need to stop emissions today.

In Australia, our only hope for wild koalas is The Greens, in this election.

The Greens will take action on emissions.  The Greens will listen to the scientists who will tell them how to take action on climate change.  They will do that because they are not corrupt.  They’re not perfect, but they are not corrupt.

Greens are not corrupt

Please Australia, stop quibbling over perfection. No political party is perfect. Stop worrying about ‘wasted votes’. There are no wasted votes – every vote is noticed by the winner, especially by the ones that win by a narrow margin. Stop worrying about who’s a vegan, or immigration policies, or death duties – none of these will matter on a dead planet.

Greens will save koalas

Please don’t tell me you’re not interested in politics. That is what the bad guys want you to say, because then they can rely on you to do nothing.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good (people) to do nothing” Edmund Burke, 1795

There’s no time to do nothing. There’s no time.

 

{note from the Author: I don’t do this lightly.  I don’t want to tell anyone how to vote.  But this has gone way past politeness.  I have looked climate change in the face, and it is more terrifying than you could believe.}

*actually the climate wasn’t that mild – it was 8 years into the Millenium Drought, but it seemed okay at the time

 

Professor Ian Hume’s research: https://sydney.edu.au/news/84.html?newsstoryid=2269

An easy way for tour guides to help wildlife

An easy way for tour guides to help wildlife

There’s a beautiful rock-wallaby that lives in the crevices at Ubirr, Kakadu. We see them every time we visit, and have pointed them out to many other visitors. Their presence at Ubirr is quite well known – we have spoken to Aboriginal Guides up there who also see them often.

Read about them here.

So it came as a surprise to find that this rock-wallaby is a newly-discovered species, that information on their basic behaviour is sparse, and that few images of them exist online.

Luckily, as Wildlife Guides we are in a habit of photographing and documenting most creatures we see. My photos and videos of Wilkins’ Rock-wallaby now form the majority of the gallery on CSIRO’s Atlas of Living Australia, and the only image of this wallaby on wikipedia.  My video of them mating is the only video showing their reproductive behaviour on YouTube.

wikipedia snapshot wilkins rock wallaby

Observations of wildlife taken on tours can be extremely useful to scientists, land managers and other wildlife enthusiasts. Tour Guides often visit the same sites repeatedly, sometimes on days or at times of day that others avoid. Our sightings are valuable and can really help wildlife, but they are not much good if they stay inside our heads.

But how to do it? Its not hard. Here’s a step by step guide to making your wildlife observations count:

1. Take a photo. Half a second to take a photo, and you have tons of information at your fingertips. The camera usually records a time & date, some even record a GPS location. A photo will often record the habitat too, which can be useful for researchers.

Powerful Owl female roosting with common brushtail prey
This photo tells researchers a lot – the bird is a female, she has caught a Common Brushtail Possum (which means that species lives in the area too), and she is roosting in a Kanooka (Tristaniopsis laurina) tree. 

2. Identify the animal. The photo is critical if you can’t identify the animal on the spot. These websites will help with identification:

Australian Marsupials, Reptiles, Amphibians, Invertebrates and Plants: https://www.facebook.com/groups/144261675750262/

Australian Mammal Photography: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AustralianMammals/

Australian Bird Identification: https://www.facebook.com/groups/209677085864957/

3. Submit your observation to an online atlas. Its generally best to do this after you’ve identified the species on the sites above.

  • All Australian animals and plants: Atlas of Living Australia https://www.ala.org.au/ This one is great for mammals, reptiles, butterflies and plants. Scientists use it – it has enormous credibility. This site also draws in all the data from eBird, NatureShare, museum collections, all scientific observations, so it is the single go-to source. Only problem is that you have to do each species one by one, so its not convenient for full bird lists.
  • Birds: eBird http://ebird.org/content/ebird/ this one is very well set up for complete bird lists anywhere in the world. You submit all the birds you see in a location in one easy step.
  • iNaturalist https://www.inaturalist.org/home This is a US-based site but really good too.
ALA-sighting
A sighting record on Atlas of Living Australia

But there are so many animals!  Where do I start?

Birds are well known in urban areas, but bird sightings in remote areas are important. Mammals – even the ‘common’ ones – are less well known, particularly in remote areas. Knowledge of Australian reptiles, butterflies & moths, insects and fungi is particularly poor and observations of these can be really helpful.

Animals that are Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened really need our help. Even animals that we think of as common are sometimes facing threats, and their future is really in the balance. For instance the Lace Monitor (Goanna) is now listed as Endangered, and the Grey-headed Flying-fox is Vulnerable – sightings of these animals are really important.

Here’s a list of animals threatened in Australia

Each state also has a Threatened Species List – some are harder to find than others. These are the states that publish a list online:

Victoria

New South Wales

Tasmania

Western Australia

Northern Territory

If I can help please contact me.

Endemic mammal families of the world: Part 1 Australasian Ecozone

In Australia, we grow up knowing that most of our mammals are found nowhere else on earth.  We almost take that for granted, but it really is an incredible legacy!

ROOS270514p01srtextlowres

But which mammal families are endemic to Australia?  Which are endemic to Australia+New Guinea and their islands?  Which are endemic to the region east of the Wallace Line (incl Sulawesi, New Guinea, Australia)?

How does our level of endemism compare to other great continents?  Please forgive the upside down map – this is the way I see the natural world!

WORLDmapEndemicMammalsTextcroptext

In researching for some cruise ship presentations I found this information hard to come by. So here’s a few lists I’ve put together from my own research.  There may be some gaps or errors – if you know of any, please let me know!

Australasian Endemic Mammal Families: 

Tachyglossidae – Echidnas (endemic to Australia+New Guinea)

Ornithorhynchidae – platypus (Australia only)

Dasyuridae – Antechinuses, Quolls, Tasmanian  Devil (Australia+New Guinea)

Myrmecobiidae – Numbat  (Australia only)

Thylacomyidae – Bilbies  (Australia only)

Peramelidae – Bandicoots  (Australia+New Guinea)

Notoryctidae – Marsupial mole  (Australia only)

Phascolarctidae – koala  (Australia only)

Vombatidae – wombats  (Australia only)

Burramyidae – pygmy possums (Australia+New Guinea & one species in indonesia close to West Papua)

Tasipedidae – honey possum  (Australia only)

Petauridae – sugar glider, leadbeaters possum (Australia+New Guinea)

Pseudocheiridae -ringtails (Australia+New Guinea and several species in Indonesia close to West Papua)

Potoridae – potoroos  (Australia only)

Hypsiprymnodontidae – Musky rat kangaroo  (Australia+New Guinea)

Macropodidae – kangaroos  (Australia+New Guinea)

Acrobatidae – feather-tailed glider & the feather-tailed possum (Australia+New Guinea)

Phalangeridae – brushtails & cuscus (Australia+New Guinea, and Sulawesi, Indonesia)

More to come: Endemic Mammal Families of Africa (African / Afrotropic Ecozone)!

References: Wikipedia species accounts

Burgman & Lindenmayer “Conservation Biology for the Australian Environment”

Australia is one of the world’s most diverse natural places!

The earth is a remarkable, exciting place, packed full of animals and plants.  It is estimated that the world has 5,400+ mammals, 10.000+ species of birds, 10,000+ reptiles (and growing), 7,300+ amphibians, 950,000+ insects and around 310,000 species of higher plants.

But did you know that most of these can be found in 12 countries?  These 12 are the Mega-diverse Nations (1).

mega-diverse nations of the world
60-70% of the earth’s species reside in these 12 nations.

Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Congo (DR Congo), Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru together hold 60-70% of the world’s species.

Many of these nations are home to a host of endemic species – that is, species that occur nowhere else.  Australia is home to 210 endemic mammals (5% of the world’s total), 355 endemic birds, 616+ endemic reptiles (nearly 10% of the world’s total reptiles) and 14,458 endemic plants.

Unfortunately, many of these countries are also on the UN list of the worst forest-clearing nations (2).

Mega-diverse nations and worst land-clearing nations compared
Orange nations are mega-diverse but also in 20 worst nations for deforestation. Yellow nations are in 20 worst for deforestation. Red nations are mega-diverse but not in worst 20 for deforestation.

The worst land-clearing nations on earth are, in order (in bold are the countries that are also the mega-diverse nations):

Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, Zambia, Mexico, Australia, Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Peru, Cote d’Ivoire, Malaysia, Cameroon, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Angola.

Aussies, unlike most of these countries, we are a developed wealthy economy.  Why are we still cutting down forest that is home to a world-class fauna and flora diversity??

Sources:

(1) Burgman & Lindenmayer “Conservation for the Australian Environment”

(2) United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization 2001, Forest Resources Assessment 2000,
UNFAO.  Unfortunately I can’t find any information more recent than this.  I have read that Australian rates of deforestation had reduced since this time, but have very recently increased again.  Even so, as Australia is 6th on the list of 20, we would have to reduce deforestation greatly to get off this list.

Tourism Businesses: Nine top tips to make your business more eco-friendly (and make your clients happier!)

  1. Plastic is nasty.  Almost every bit of plastic ever created is still in existence, much of it floating in the ocean.  It never breaks down.  Big bits of plastic end up in the bellies of baby Albatrosses and Dolphins, killing them through starvation.  Small bits (micro-plastic) remain floating in the ocean, or sink to the seafloor.  It is not known what effect these have, but marine scientists are concerned.  Recycling plastic doesn’t help much – after one or two recycles the plastic becomes unusable gunk that goes to landfill.  WHAT TO DO?  Replace plastic with glass, bamboo, cornstarch-alternatives, metal, paper, cardboard.  If you can’t find a plastic alternative that works for you, then reduce your plastic by using hard plastic reusable items.
    glassContainers
    toughened glass containers and reusable coffee mugs

    bamboo dish brush
    bamboo and natural bristle dish brushes
  2. Local is good. Local fruit & vegetables, anything bought from local-owned businesses, is much better for the planet than supporting a multi-national. You are making local jobs, usually reducing fuel from transport (both yours and theirs), and supporting your local community.  Smaller businesses are often more able and willing to make eco-friendly changes to their practices, especially if they value your business.
  3. Support markets and independent grocers. I know, the supermarket giants seem convenient, but sometimes a local grocer is actually easier.  South Melbourne Market is open every day except Monday, Tuesday & Thursday. They even have a sustainability and waste reduction policy.  Our local greengrocer delivers our fruit to our door. The quality and freshness of food from the market far exceeds that bought from the big supermarkets.  The fruit we buy from the market/greengrocer outlives the supermarket fruit by days – reducing waste and cost to the business. 
  4. Fruit is the best snack ever!  It comes in bio-degradable packaging all of its own.  It is classy, healthy, suits everyone, varies with the seasons and if local, is exotic and special to your guests.  People with food allergies can often eat fruit.  Fruit is kosher. Kids love fruit, especially strawberries, bananas, watermelon and grapes.  Of course, try not to buy it in a plastic bag or box – take your own ‘green bags’ to the market (see point 6) and your produce is packaged ready for storage and a long life.
  5. Disposable anything is wasteful and lacks class. I have felt offended when a ‘quality’ tour gives me lunch in a disposable plastic container with plastic cutlery.  That’s not quality.  That shows that a business is not prepared to wash dishes for the likes of you. On the flip side, we have so often been complimented by our guests for the proper crockery we serve our food on.  Washing dishes is not hard – most businesses have dishwashers!

    reusable crockery and cutlery
    tour lunch setup – not a disposable item in sight.
  6. ‘Green bags’ (Fresh Fruit Bags) extend the life of fruit & vegetables. They really, really do – we have a food technologist in the family and he’s confirmed it.  We put everything in them – they keep cut avocadoes green, cut watermelon & canteloupe stays fresh for days, broccoli and lettuce last weeks.  Yes, they are plastic, but we make an exception for these because they reduce food waste and are reusable many times. The pack says to use them three times only, but we wash and re-use them until they fall apart and we’ve seen no loss of quality.  You can buy them online here: http://www.gelpack.com.au/freshcrisp.html

    Fresh & Crisp Fruit Bags
    Keep your fruit and vegetables fresh for longer
  7. Compost!  If you’re using fruit and paper bags, it can all go into a compost bin.  95% of our tour waste goes into one 2litre compost bucket each day.  The compost is stored at our city office for a week, then is collected and transferred to our country property where it fertilises native plants.  If you don’t have a country place, look around for a community garden or group that could use your compost – they will probably collect it as well.  This organisation supplies compost units to restaurants in Melbourne – you can be part of it here: http://www.closedloop.com.au/closed-loop-organics
  8. Vehicle washing does not need to use massive amounts of water.  Buy one of the high-tech cleaning mitts (every supermarket and auto store has them, see pic) – you will be amazed at how well they work.  Half a mop-bucket of water and a high-tech cloth cleans a Hiace 12 seater van inside and out.  No need to rinse – once over with the mitt is all that’s needed.  It’s quicker and much cheaper than taking the vehicle to a carwash, and you can do it at your base without flooding the joint.  Think of the staff time (and money) you’ll save.

    Microfiber-Chenille-Car-Cleaning-Glove
    these car-cleaning cloths are excellent
  9. Publicise your eco-friendly initiatives – you will make others think, and give your competitors a reason to do it too. Write it all up on your website so your potential clients can see it.  Tweet, Facebook and Instagram it!  Get your Guides to show off your compost bucket on tours.  Put a sticker on your vehicles “I am washed with only half a bucket of water”.  Your clients will talk about it, and anything that gets travellers talking about us after the tour is good for business!

    twitter pic
    publicise your eco initiatives!  You deserve it!

This is not a post about how we are perfect – we are not.  There are still aspects of our business that are not as eco-friendly as they could be.  We are still learning.  Do you have any tips?  Please add them in the comments!

Tourism companies work together to save wild koalas


Insight Australia have become the first Inbound Tour Operator to join with award-winning wildlife tour operator Echidna Walkabout to make a home for a wild koala.

Insight Australia’s generous donation funds local people to remove thousands of weeds that are degrading wild koala habitat. Through research, Echidna Walkabout discovered that Boneseed weed makes gum-trees unavailable to koalas. Removing it ‘turns the trees back on’ for koalas, effectively increasing koala habitat immediately.

wild koala Pat welcomes Insight Australia's donation to koala habitat restoration
wild koala Pat

 

Insight Australia Travel is a great believer in and supporter of sustainable tourism. Our travellers love the Australian experience much of which is about our beautiful wildlife. We jumped at the opportunity to support Echidna Walkabout firstly because we want to see Koalas’ truly thrive in the wild and secondly because our travellers strongly desire and fully appreciate the unique experience they offer. For tourists to be able to engage in such a manner and to be able to actually make a difference results in an inspiring win/win.“ Birgit Bourne, Insight Australia

With this donation, we will run a Koala Conservation Day for Locals that will remove at least 5,000 weeds. That is the equivalent of planting 200 koala food trees. The effect on koalas is instant – they can move in and start feeding in the habitat the next day.” Janine Duffy, Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours.

Participants on the Koala Conservation Day come ready for a solid day of weeding, koala research and education. The Days are very popular with locals, and are often over-subscribed. Echidna Walkabout are keen to run more, so are seeking funding from Australian and international companies. Just $600 makes a home for a wild koala for a whole year.

We encourage other Aussie companies to follow Insight’s lead and contribute to this productive project, either through donation or by organising their own Staff Conservation Day” says Duffy. “It really does work – since starting this project we have seen an increase in koalas of 370%. Your donation really could save koalas from extinction”

For images: images library on Google+

Contact: Janine Duffy, Echidna Walkabout 

T: +61 (0)3 9626 8249 M: +61 (0)427 808 747

E: janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au 

www.echidnawalkabout.com.au

Birgit Bourne, Insight Australia

T: +61 (0)2 9949 9669 M: +61 (0)422 417 978

E: birgit@insightaustralia.com.au

www.insightaustralia.com.au

LOVE… is not confined to humans

Have you ever watched a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets snuggling together on a branch?  They nuzzle each other, their whole bodies touching even in hot weather.  The one being groomed closes their eyes with a look of pure contentment.  RAINBOWlorikeet070114p06mmtext2

When you know that this is a pair that has been together for many years, and that they do this several times a day, you know it’s more than just “grooming”.  This is an activity they indulge in as often as they can, always with their partner.  They are a married couple.

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When they have children, they look after them with affection.  They snuggle with their young, and groom them too.  But there’s something special about the interaction between a mated pair.

There’s nothing else to call it.  It is LOVE.
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Sometimes love is felt most keenly when one of the pair dies.  Rainbow Lorikeets, along with many parrots, will stand beside the body of their mate killed on the road, some for hours.  They don’t seem to know what to do – they refuse to leave their side, often in danger themselves from passing cars.   We don’t see all the manifestations of grief – most of that would happen quietly in the trees.  We do see this though.

If that’s not love, what is it?

We believe that it’s best to assume that every single wild animal on this earth is loved by another of their own kind.  Some species make it obvious – like Rainbows.  Some are more subtle.  We’ve seen signs of Koala love, love between Kangaroos,  magpies, ravens, flying-foxes.  We don’t know whether insects, spiders or fish feel it, but how would we know?  Even if they don’t, isn’t it best to respect all life?

Which animals have you seen loving each other?

There are many reasons to save the planet from human-induced climate change.  This is just one of them.  Every single Rainbow Lorikeet that dies of heat stress, starvation, fatigue or bushfire leaves behind another Rainbow Lorikeet who grieves for them.

See our video: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152232854316495&set=vb.106519026494&type=2&theater

Summer in Australia’s wildlife hotspot

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For a Guide, some trips last in the memory with a smile. Early February’s bright sunny Wildlife Journey was one of those. I shared it with 4 wonderful people who brought the best of their cultures with them: 2 enthusiastic, warm, open-hearted Americans, and 2 funny, subtle, gentle Brits. They approached every adventure with williingness, and enjoyed every bird, butterfly and lizard as much as the koalas, kangaroos and wallabies (or almost, anyway!)

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Our 4 day Wildlife Journey travels to East Gippsland – one of Australia’s wildlife hotspots. The Snowy River forms a rough western border, the Pacific Ocean on the east, the Southern Ocean to the south and the New South Wales highlands to the north. In a region that makes up only 4% of Victoria’s land live nearly half Australia’s bird species, 60% of our large mammals and a stack of reptiles, frogs and butterflies.

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The highlights were the wild koalas and kangaroos on the first day at Raymond Island, a small island in The Lakes National Park near Paynesville. It’s a fantastic spot for wildlife generally, partly due to the attitude of the few human residents of the island – they are a very pro-wildlife lot!

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For me, the great highlight was a pair of White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes on the Mooresford Track in the Snowy River National Park on the second day. I hadn’t seen a White-bellied since Darwin, NT in 2011 and that’s a very long way away from East Gippsland. White-bellieds are occasional visitors to Victoria, particularly to the dry forests of the north. One bird was the very distinctive and beautiful dark morph, which I had only seen once before.

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A very cheeky Goanna (Lace Monitor) made our lunchtime very entertaining by prowling around our table hoping for a tidbit. They are magnificent creatures. Big ones get to 2.5metres, but they’re not dangerous to people. This one was smaller, maybe 1.5m.

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As a finale to a great trip, we enjoyed sundowners and dinner while the sun set over the Southern Ocean.

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Want to see a lot of wildlife? Try slow travel!

Want to see a lot of wildlife? Try slow travel!

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Everyone travels in their own unique way. Finding your own style of travel can take years, and lots of trips. We found ours on our first trip to Australia’s Northern Territory, and with it, we found the most exciting wildlife.

Australia is a subtle land, a slow land that has been formed and forged millions of years ago. Unlike Africa, who is male – Australia is a woman. She is difficult to seduce but when she becomes yours, she gives you everything. On our first trip to the Top End, she gave us wild Bustards.

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The Australian Bustard is a big bird that requires healthy grasslands – an ecosystem severely threatened in Australia. We have plenty of grassland, but most of it on private property. Nutritious grassland was the most coveted of land in Australia’s settlement years, so it was snapped up quickly. Cattle in the north and sheep in the south trampled the soft, loose soil ruining the native vegetation. At the same time, large tasty birds were shot for the pot. So Bustards became harder and harder to find.

We’ve seen Bustards in our home state of Victoria, but rarely. They’ve become a symbol – of wildness, of healthy vast landscapes. So when we saw two males on the third day of our first trip to the Top End, we couldn’t believe our eyes.

We had driven along an unknown road that turned into a property driveway. It was one of those enormous Outback properties – no fences, no gates, just a cattle grid and a tiny sign: “Private Property – do not trespass”. We were about to turn back when we saw the bustards. They were walking, haughty and elegant with their noses up. Alertness has kept them alive all these years, and they had seen us. They ran along a little way, then took off – enormous wings straining to lift their weighty bodies.

If we’d stuck to the tourist tracks we would never have seen them. Our accommodation was in the small, relatively unknown mining town of Batchelor. We stayed for 2 weeks. When we booked the poor host could barely contain his shock: “2 weeks? Um, great!” He said. Then later “Are you sure you want to stay for 2 weeks? You know Batchelor is a small town.. not much to do” We laughed and assured him we’d be fine. And we were right.

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We spent two glorious weeks in Batchelor. It took us 4 days to even get to Litchfield National Park, the main drawcard, only 20km away. We looked at every creek, park, roadside strip of remnant vegetation. We found (and better still, learned about) Bustards, LIttle Kingfishers, Red-tailed Black-cockatoos, Red-winged Parrots, Chestnut-breasted Mannikins, Red-backed Fairy-wrens and Agile Wallabies.

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When we finally made it into Litchfield, our slow travel style delivered again. We spent hours on walking tracks without seeing a single other person. The Rainbow Pittas, Shining Flycatchers and Northern Rosellas became so familiar that we felt like we’d known them all our lives. We delighted in flocks of hundreds of Red-tailed Black-cockatoos flying home for the night. We often stayed out until dark, unable to drag ourselves away, and then had to deal with the wonderful nuisance of stopping the car every few kilometres to allow an enourmous python to get off the road.

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On our second, third and fourth trips to the Top End we used the same strategy. Find a spot and stop there for 4 days at least. Some places we became besotted by and didn’t want to leave, some places we simply enjoyed. All places had something special to offer. We met local people, and stayed in touch with them afterwards. We ate paw paws grown locally on an organic farm. We learned when to be afraid of Saltwater/Estuarine Crocodiles, and that some daytime temperatures really are too hot for walking.

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But we didn’t see another Bustard.

We saw almost everything else, though! Antilopine Kangaroos, Short-eared Rock-wallabies, Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeons, Gould’s Goanna, Beach Stone-curlews, Long-tailed Finches, Australian Pratincoles, Jabirus – I mean, really, we’ve been very lucky.

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For our most recent trip we were guiding our first group. So we went a week ahead to check everything. We spent another wonderful four days at Jabiru on our own, followed by three days with the group. (“4 days at Jabiru?” all the locals cried “What for?” True, Jabiru is not pretty, but it’s right in the middle of everything and it’s wildlife is superb!!) Then we moved on to a favourite spot: Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge next to the Mary River National Park.

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Mary River NP is Kakadu’s lesser known sister. The park doesn’t have the Arnhemland escarpment, the amazing rock art of Kakadu. But she’s got some wildlife! Boat cruises on the Mary River and Corroborree Billabong are incredible. Huge salties (Saltwater Crocodiles – the world’s largest and most dangerous crocodile) are the highlight, but the birds are pretty spectacular too. The Mary River apparently has more crocs in it than water.
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Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge is on the Mary River floodplain, and is one of the last places you can reach in a two-wheel drive vehicle. Beyond the lodge, the road to Point Stuart bumps along all the way to the Timor Sea. It is a region so wild and remote that most Aussies will never see it. Yet it’s a landmark of our history – it is the point where explorer John McDouall Stuart reached the sea on his 9 month epic journey from the south.

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We liked Pt Stuart Wilderness Lodge the minute we first saw it. In true Territory-style the lodge buildings ramble, unpretentiously across the flat landscape. Everything happens on “Territory Time” – a slower pace than in the cities. On our second morning we rose late, thinking that we had missed all the wildlife, but needing the sleep.

I did my morning stretches, as I always do, facing the sun. A male Australian Bustard flew in. I remember holding my breath, not wanting to break the silent magesty of his presence. For a long, long few minutes he stayed right where he was, all of 50 metres away. I was awestruck.

We had wondered why we liked Pt Stuart, and whether we had done the right thing bringing people to this out of the way place. But our instinct for Australia proved right. We have loved her for years, and travelled gently on her back: respecting her wildlife, her indigenous people, her history. She rewards us often.

If you come and treat her well, she will reward you too!

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