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Tasmania's Raptors - How endangered are they

Since writing about Raptors a couple of weeks ago, I have spoken with Wildlife expert, conservationist and environmental consultant, Nick Mooney, about the status of Tasmania’s birds of prey. The good news he said, was that the large Raptors such as the Wedge – Tailed Eagle and the Sea Eagle do seem to be holding their own, with the Sea Eagles possibly seeing an increase in their numbers. However, he warns, this could change rapidly if the thirteen wind farms scheduled for Tasmania go ahead. As the Spanish example with regard to Bonelli’s Eagle has shown, detailed surveys, tracking routes and hunting ranges and subsequently siting and designing for least impact, will be of utmost importance. Sure, he says, cats kill more birds than windfarms do, but those numbers are highly misleading. In the first instance, because of their size, Raptors are over - represented in the kill statistics and their numbers are miniscule compared to the smaller birds. Small birds are pre -programmed for rapid reproduction, whereas Raptors breed much more slowly and take a long time to mature.  

For the moment, Nick is far more concerned about our smaller raptors – the owls and particularly, the Brown Falcon.  Judging by the numbers brought into refuges dead and injured, it would appear that they are down to 20% of their former strength. The main cause of death of those examined is poisoning, usually secondarily as a result of eating poisoned rodents and rabbits.  The main reason for this appears to be the use of new rodenticides, which kill rapidly in ONE application, rather the older types of anti- coagulants which took two or more doses. The weaker older poisons, allowed more birds to recover after ingesting prey and were thus able to recover more easily.  This initially came to light when Parks and Wildlife officers on Macquarie Island sought to remove introduced species such as rats and mice, to enable native species to recover. Previous eradication efforts had not much affected native bird populations, but the new products certainly did.
 PWS have learnt their lesson well and urge farmers and others with a pest problem to read the packaging and consult them first before applying anything. Ironically, sufficient numbers of Raptors on or around a property to begin with, would prevent the problem from arising in the first place. Sadly, no one knows how our prime rodent catchers – the Masked Owls, Tawny Frogmouths and Owlet Nightjars are faring. They are secretive creatures that hunt mostly at night. 

As in many a Third World country, few comprehensive surveys have been done and conservation has increasingly taken a backseat to economic development at any cost. While I am all in favour of alternative energy, at this stage, it doesn’t appear that Tasmanians will benefit much from the proposed developments which may in fact compete with our sales of hydro -electricity, while tourism, including wildlife tourism and our fine food and wine exports which trade on our “pristine” environment, already bring in far more, may also suffer. Oh yes, and as for job creation, with the first large wind farm in the Central Highlands almost at the commission stage, and it would appear that so far the project has only employed TWO Tasmanians  -to dig a couple of holes and pour a bit of concrete. 

Just because the proposed developments are out of sight of a clamouring populace, doesn’t mean we should let them pass without stringent assessment.