A visit to Aussie Ark in June of 2018 was a huge learning experience for journalist Julia Driscoll, who didn’t know that Australia had the worst rate of animal extinction in the entire world.
Tim Faulkner is a modern day Noah – saving animals from extinction by building an ark. Or two.
Tim, best known for his role as general manager of the Australian Reptile Park and his appearances on Bondi Vet and his own show The Wildlife of Tim Faulkner, is not just a TV celebrity, but a passionate conservationist. In fact, so well respected in conservation circles is he that he was named Australian Geographic Australian Conservationist of the Year in 2015.
Alongside his role as general manager of the reptile park, he is also the organisation’s head of conservation, as well as general manager and board member of Devil Ark, and now a sister project – Aussie Ark.
Devil Ark was founded in 2011 in response to the devastation facial tumour disease has wreaked on Tasmanian devils on their home island, placing the devil on the endangered list. The Ark, at Barrington Tops in NSW, now contains the largest insurance population of devils on mainland Australia.
“We have good, great, above average reproductive output, and we’re able to facilitate all of that. Private conservation in Australia is really kicking goals,” Tim says.
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“So on the success of Devil Ark, we’ve now created Aussie Ark. On the success of that insurance population model, we’ve now expanded to Eastern quolls, long-nosed potoroos, rufous bettongs, Southern brown bandicoots, long-nosed bandicoots and Parma wallabies.
Currently the facility has around 40 quolls, with “about another 50 just about to be in the pouch”, doubling the population this year.
I absolutely love the bandicoots. They’re as stupid as they come.Tim Faulkner
The quolls are, without a doubt, the prettiest of the six species, but Tim has a special spot in his heart for the bandicoots.
“I absolutely love the bandicoots. They’re as stupid as they come. But I like this thing of stupidness in Australian animals, or lack of intelligence. They just had an idealistic lifestyle, they didn’t need to be smart,” he says.
The idealistic lifestyle Tim is talking about is an isolated, sheltered lifestyle the animals lived prior to the colonisation of Australia by Europeans and the introduced species they bought with them.
Australia originally had no native placental mammals that other countries have, such as dogs, cats, bears and primates. Placental mammals breed faster and are smarter, so Tim says, the marsupials did not have to compete with them.
“One hundred years ago there were Eastern quolls here. They’re now extinct on the mainland and only found in Tassie. There were Parma wallabies here – they’re now only in two little remnant populations. There were bandicoots, bettongs, potoroos – all of these small mammals that are within the critical weight range of between 500 grams and five kilograms,” Tim says.
Aussie Ark has committed to breeding insurance populations of all six species and releasing them back into the Barrington Tops in the future – repopulating the area with the small animals that used to be there but no longer are, because of foxes and feral cats.
“Essentially Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate on Earth and, aside from the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), everything is within the critical weight range.
“Basically what happens is we’ve got a dingo as a top order predator that maintains balance – it keeps foxes and cats out. You take out the dingo, the foxes and cats come in and they annihilate our animals,” Tim explains.
“Go back 100 years – a generation or two, and outside this fence we had all of these small mammals that are now either locally extinct or extinct on the mainland and only found in Tasmania because foxes never made it to Tasmania.
“For a lot of these animals it’s about the predators. The sad thing is that Australian animals can live off the smell of an oily rag! But you just can’t deal with the predators,” Tim says.
The parts of land of Devil Ark and Aussie Ark that contain the animals are surrounded by fencing that no fox or feral cat can get under or over. Without fenced areas of land, the two not-for-profit organisations would have nothing to protect.
However this doesn’t mean the animals are free from threat. As we go through the Aussie Ark enclosures, 1350 metres above sea level with the afternoon shadows lengthening and the air getting decidedly chilly, wedge tailed eagles circle overhead. It’s feeding time for the marsupials, and the eagles are keeping their eyes on them.
Thankfully, there are ropes traversing the breadth of the enclosures at shoulder height.
“The wedgies won’t attack when there’s things like this. It’s too dangerous for their wings,” Tim explains.
Essentially Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate on Earth.Tim Faulkner
The plan is to fence the entire 3000 hectares, donated by the Packer family for Devil Ark’s use, in stages. So far they have constructed 18 kilometres of fencing – the 30 hectares that currently houses Devil Ark, 64 hectares that they will extend into, and soon a further 400 hectares dedicated to Aussie Ark for large, mixed species wild managed areas. The fences cost $150 a metre.
You can help raise funds for the fencing by taking a visit to Devil Ark and Aussie Ark for a guided tour and interactive experience with Tasmanian devils and the other six species. Alternatively you can book an overnight stay at ‘Devil Retreat’, which includes a guided tour of Devil Ark.
Visits are by booking only. To book go to www.devilark.org.au.
To learn more about Aussie Ark visit www.aussieark.org.au.