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Peter Harlow with Fijian Crested Iguana

Health Checks of Fijian Crested Iguanas in the Wild

Biodiversity is the engine of life. We rely heavily on plant and animal species to play specific roles within an ecosystem, which provides valuable services for all wildlife and people. The global value of these ecological services has been estimated at $33-54 trillion/year. But it is also estimated that we lose $2-5 trillion each year in ecological services due to environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.

The five primary threatening processes are:

  • Habitat loss and degradation (pollution, unsustainable human activities)
  • Invasive species (feral animals and weeds)
  • Human-wildlife conflict (revenge-killing, poaching, overharvesting)
  • Climate change (acidification of oceans, changing climate bands)
  • Disease. The role of disease is increasingly recognised as key impact on wildlife populations and human populations (e.g., avian influenza)

Taronga’s terrestrial ecology projects aim to identify the specific threats to wildlife and habitats, and to test the best methods to lessen these threats, protect wildlife populations and maintain the essential services these species provide. Taronga has no dedicated terrestrial ecology staff but actively engages in collaborative projects with academic and government partners.

  • Taronga Zoo, Dr. Rebecca Spindler
  • Dr. Peter Harlow
  • Grainne Cleary
  • Michael McFadden

Case Studies

Competitive Behaviour between a Pest and Native Rodent

The Black Rat is known to change the plant structure of habitats, eat native bird eggs and spread diseases fatal to native animals. Its presence in Sydney Harbour National Park is of particular concern because of the high conservation value of the area. These experiments, performed in purpose-built enclosures at Taronga Zoo have validated reports of a competitive relationship between black rats and the native Bogul (bush rat). This data may lead to a novel approach for pest control by re-establishing a native species.

Southern Corroboree Frog conservation program

Taronga Zoo is a partner in a collaborative conservation program with the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) and other captive institutions to prevent the imminent extinction of the Southern Corroboree Frog. With less than 150 frogs remaining in the wild, the success of the captive breeding program provides the last hope for the species.

Current Projects

Reintroduction of the Native Bogul to the Sydney Harbour Foreshore

Taronga is a partner in this collaborative project run by Dr Peter Banks at the University of NSW. The project will examine crucial elements of introduction biology in an urban area, and the impact of a returning native species on the biodiversity of the area. Taronga staff in the Australian fauna and Horticultural departments have taken up Masters Degrees in the project.

Assessment and Prediction of Platypus Distribution

In collaboration with Charles Sturt University, independent researchers and the CSIRO, we will gather data to determine if the current conservation status “of least concern” provides adequate protection for the platypus. The second phase of the project will use climate models to see how changes in water distribution and river systems will impact on platypus populations and recommend management actions.

Captive breeding and reintroduction of Corroboree Frog eggs

Taronga Zoo is currently assessing different techniques to achieve maximum captive breeding success in Southern Corroboree Frogs. Taronga Zoo has also joined with DECCW, in establishing artificial pools in the wild that exclude the lethal amphibian chytrid fungus. Trial reintroductions have involved the release of wild-collected eggs into these tubs, in addition to eggs that were produced by the captive population at Taronga Zoo.

Captive breeding and release of Booroolong Frogs

Taronga Zoo currently maintains a large population of Booroolong Frogs that was established as an insurance population and to establish captive breeding protocols. Successful breeding protocols have been established and reintroduction trials have taken place to assess whether this is a suitable conservation tool for the species. Current research will determine the optimal strategies for reintroducing this species into its former habitat.

Captive breeding program for the Yellow-spotted Bell Frog

The Yellow-spotted Bell Frog was recently rediscovered on the Southern Tablelands after it was thought that they had been extinct for over 30 years. A small population has been established at Taronga Zoo in partnership with DECCW. Once the frogs have reached sexual maturity, captive breeding will be attempted with research focusing on experimental reintroductions into suitable habitat on the Southern Tablelands.