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Animal encounter to raise awareness of threatened native species


Sharlene King
9 September 2013
The Taronga Zoomobile is visiting Southern Cross University this week (September 9 and 10) as part of a project designed to raise awareness of the plight of threatened native animals in the Northern Rivers.

Around 200 students from six primary and high schools will go into the field at the University’s Lismore campus to learn how to take action in helping to save locally threatened species such as koalas and squirrel gliders as part of the In Situ Project.

The In Situ Project is a collaboration of Richmond Landcare, Dorroughby Environmental Education Centre, Taronga Zoo, Southern Cross University, Rous Water and Friends of the Koala and is funded by a Community Environment Grant under the Federal Government’s Caring for Our Country program.

The Lismore campus has a resident population of koalas. The University’s sustainability facilitator Kirsty Howton and Dorroughby Environmental Education Centre principal Christine Freeman will explain and involve students in the koala research program on campus. Students will be shown the recently installed rope crossings for koalas, a research project aimed at replicating for koalas the success of the possum and glider crossings across roadways to keep them safe from vehicle strike.

The Taronga Zoomobile will enable students to get up close to Australian native mammals, snakes and insects. The Zoo team will teach them how to assess habitat and look for evidence of the presence of species.

Friends of the Koala will give a presentation about the threats to koalas; their food trees; and improving habitat.

The schools participating in the project at SCU are:
* Monday 9 September: Bexhill Primary, The Pocket Public, Wyrallah Public
* Tuesday 10 September: Evans River High, St Johns College Woodlawn, Lismore Public

Following the workshops, each school will develop an education project to motivate students to become part of the solution by creating awareness, behaviour change and improved habitat in their local communities. Projects may include community education via social media, information brochures, educational signs, short videos, nest boxes, tree planting and frog habitat improvement.

Students will present their community action projects at two events: the North Coast National (Lismore Show) (October 17 to 19) and Southern Cross University’s 'Our Voice' Sustainability Conference for Young People by Young People on November 1. They will also share their projects with the other participating schools via video conferences.

Dr Ross Goldingay, a senior researcher in the School of Environment, Science and Engineering, oversees the University’s koala research and tracking programs and is the creator of the rope bridges.

“The In Situ Project raises the consciousness of young people. It shows them some of our natives that are under threat, and in fact might disappear in their lifetime,” said Dr Goldingay.

“If you want people to place a value on native wildlife it’s best to educate the younger generations in the role these animals play in the wild and to make them aware that a lot of human activities threaten these species. The good news is there are things we can do to alleviate some of the threats.”

Christine Freeman, principal of the Dorroughby Environmental Education Centre (NSW Department of Education and Communities facility), is the organiser of the In Situ Project.

“In our region we see a lot of koalas so the perception is that the koala population is okay but there are major issues with disease and loss of connectivity between wildlife corridors,” Christine said.

“I’m looking forward to seeing each school’s community action project and the message the students design to inform their peers, their parents and their local communities about how together they can help threatened animals living in nearby habitat.”
Photo: Taronga Zoomobile education officer Rod Cheal shows a sugar glider possum to The Pocket Primary students (L to R) Tiki Rose, Chung Nguyen and Angel Harvey.