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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine March/April 2007
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Volunteer in Australia
Living in Australia: Best Resources

Mammal Monitoring

Join Conservation Volunteers in Australia’s Grampians National park

Kangaroos in Grampian National Park
The Grampians supports some 40 species of mammals, including kangaroos

After a horrific summer of bushfires in the Grampians, one of Victoria’s most spectacular National Parks, the landscape has opened up. Once overgrown with a sturdy level of understory growth like native grasses and flowering shrubs, many parts of the Grampians are now characterized by charred earth. Where once there was shelter and refuge for tiny mammals like the long-nosed potoroo, southern brown bandicoot, and swamp rat, a barren landscape now exists, leaving no place for them to hide from predators.

The fires also burned antique timber bridges throughout the Grampians making many areas unavailable to visitors. In these areas, park rangers are working with participants from Conservation Volunteers to trap and track small mammals in a large scale operation covering 72,000 hectares of the park.

I joined Conservation Volunteers, along with participants from Australia and Japan, to monitor the movements of some of the mountains’ most vulnerable native animals for four days. For many years, the Grampians of my imagination was a place of endless allure. Rocky carapaces punctuated by caves, cliffs, overhangs, and a myriad of hiking trails silently beckoned exploration. When the opportunity came to discover this spectacular region through volunteering, I jumped at the opportunity to give something back to the mountain landscapes I have loved since I was young.

Mount Hollow in Grampian National Park
Wind-eroded stone characterizes the summit of Mount Hollow.

On our first morning, we woke at 6:30 a.m. “Surely that can’t be my alarm,” I thought, jolted by the digital bleep. I got up to throw on my old hiking boots, long pants, and a long sleeved shirt for my first morning of checking traps with the rangers and other volunteers. Shouts of “OB” or “open baited” echoed along each 100-meter long transect until a magical “CA” or “closed animal” was heard. We then engaged in “trap lottery,” as we tried to guess what we had caught. Peering under the cover, a tiny pair of eyes stared back. They belonged to a swamp rat, one of the smallest native animals regularly caught on the project. We bundled him into a bag where he was weighed, and a small amount of fur was clipped to avoid stress of recapture before he was left to run off into the wild once more.

Eventually, park rangers hope that a combination of mammal monitoring and fox baiting will create a suitable landscape for the reintroduction of captive bred brush-tailed rock wallabies into the wild. Listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as vulnerable, Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies have been extinct in the park since 1999. Tying in with the National Threatened Species Day on September 7, 2008, the first animals will be released back into the park via a half-way habitat already established on the outskirts of Dunkeld, a small village nestled in the foothills of the Grampians. Participating on the project, it’s difficult not to want to join the park staff in its commitment to achieve this momentous outcome.

Each day we struggled to tear ourselves away from the fun of mammal tracking, only to be enticed into other activities that included visiting ancient aboriginal rock art sites, looking for wildflowers or hiking in areas of the park that were not affected by fire. On our trip, we chose to summit Mount Hollow, the lofty heights of which allowed us to fully grasp the beauty of the park in all its grandeur. Mount Hollow’s peak has been sculpted by wind into caves, grottoes, and sharp cliffs. Taipan Wall, a longstanding mecca for rock climbers from around the world, is clearly visible from the top.

Retiring to our accommodation at the superb Youth Hostel Association Eco-hostel in the Grampians, we reflected on each day’s activities over home cooked meals. We bounced our recollections off each other and exchanged highlights of spotting rare endemic orchids, countless grass trees in bloom, momentous mountain scenery, detailed rock art, and the chance to get up close and personal with some of the cutest animals on the planet.

For More Info

Spring in Australia (October and November) offers the best conditions for joining the mammal tracking program in the Grampians. The mountains are alive with blooming wildflowers and temperatures are generally pleasant. Halls Gap also offers a variety of guesthouses and bed and breakfasts to suit all budgets. The first stop on the internet for accommodation in this pretty village can be found at www.visithallsgap.com.au.

If you are interested in other volunteer trips in Australia, such as helping with projects at a world heritage area in Tasmania or monitoring sea birds on Montague Island, visit the Conservation Volunteers website: www.conservationvolunteers.com.au.

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