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No. 13
Well here we are, this is the "lucky" 13th newsletter that takes us to our 1st anniversary. I know that many of you enjoy the stories we cover, the feedback is always nice and comments, story ideas and stunning photos are all welcomed.
Long before any human conservation movement, Koalas Phascolarctos cinereus were hugging those trees! Now it appears they really do it to keep cool. No, not looking cool, but as a means to cool off in summer.

Scientists have shown that Koalas use trees as heat sinks, transferring their excessive body heat to the cooler tree trunk by hugging it tightly. They pretty much use their bum and belly skin to get the maximum contact and thus maximum heat transfer. This is an unusual but effective thermoregulatory strategy in mammals.

To find out more see

Koala tree hugging to cool body temperature. Photo © Steve Griffiths
I am always telling people that a lot of weird and possibly new species are out there in the vast barely explored outback of WA. It appears one particularly strange creature long thought extinct in Australia may still exist in the remote West Kimberley.

A specimen was found in the collection of the Natural History Museum in London dated 1901, many thousands of years after it was assumed to have become extinct. This discovery, along with an account by an elderly Aboriginal woman who in 2001 told of how she used to hunt them, has scientists and naturalists excited.

The Western Long-beaked Echidna Zaglossus sp is a metre long monotreme (egg laying mammal) and about 10kg in weight – and hopefully still roaming remote WA. They definitely still exist (just) in New Guinea where one of the 3 species is named in honour of Sir David Attenborough Zaglossus attenboroughi. Scientists are hoping to find them, or at least their scats (poohs), for DNA testing to determine if they are still out there. Let's hope for positive results.

Giant echidna at Taronga Zoo Sydney. Photo © The Australian
I spent a morning recently at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) sanctuary Karakamia near Gidgegannup. I was volunteering just for a morning, helping trap and record Woylie, Possum and Bandicoot information. At one stage I got talking to field ecologist Bryony Palmer about AWC's feral cat sniffing dogs. Sally a springer spaniel and Brangul a catahoula hound are deployed on the frontline helping track feral cats in some of AWC's vast managed areas.

The AWC trip was over early and when I got home later that morning my National Geographic magazine had just arrived with an article about the US army's IED (Improvised Explosive Device) detecting dogs and their work in Afghanistan. So I thought I would bring you some dog sniffing stuff this month.

You and I have about 5 million olfactory receptors in our noses; by contrast a dog has around 220 million. In essence their sense of smell is by some accounts 100,000 times more acute than ours. Which is really absolutely amazing. Also some 40% more of their brain is committed to analysing scents than ours. They smell very well.

This phenomenal ability is put to use in a diverse variety of services for you and I via governments with the military, police, customs, non-government organizations (NGOs) and numerous others around the world. The US Customs and Border Detection unit alone has over 800 working dog teams that are trained to detect a range of items from undeclared cash, concealed humans, illegally imported agricultural products and of course narcotics.

A few other things dogs are trained to sniff out include:

  • DVD/CD - Used to find counterfeit DVD imports in Malaysia, UK and USA. They are trained to smell large quantities of the discs on people or in shipped packages.
  • Bumble Bees - In the UK helping researchers find endangered species. They smell the unique scent of bumble bee colonies.
  • Bacteria - That can cause American foulbrood in commercial bee hives.
  • Whale pooh - Yes weird but true – helping cetacean research.
  • Bed bugs - Keeping hotel rooms bug free and showing pest controllers where to treat.
  • Mobile phones - Searching for smuggled phones in prisons.
  • Minerals and ores - Ovulation in cows – The rare Oregon spotted frog – Cancer - Fingerprints up to a week old – Termites – Diabetes – Cane toads

Believe it or not bees, flies and rats also have a good nose. They and other species have been trained and are utilised to detect particularly explosives. Apparently whilst it takes 6 months to train a dog, a bee can be trained in around an hour. They are "worked" in tubes carried by their operator and are capable of sniffing for example very low traces of Semtex or land mines. Rather than buzzing randomly about in their tubes when a target odour is detected they zoom towards one end thus alerting their operator.

I once had to train a large Bumble Bee Bombus lucoram to fly and land on a BMW air filter (whilst facing camera and smiling!) feed for 1 second and then fly off at a particular angle. This was for a TV commercial. I was lucky and had nearly two weeks to get the bees trained or "conditioned" for the shoot. Fortunately it all went well and they performed as required.

Labrador dog nose. Photo © Animal Ark

Dog nose. Photo © Animal Ark

Bumblebee on flower. Photo © Animal Ark

PhD student Ashleigh Wolfe has just started her herpetological research project. She is looking at various ecophysical aspects of our venomous Dugite Pseudonaja affinis and harmless Bobtail lizards Tiliqua rugosa. Amongst other things she is studying the stomach contents of Dugites and has already found out some interesting stuff.

It would appear that lizard tails (the dropped tails and not the living animal) are a regular part of the diet of juvenile dugite road kills that she has dissected. This finding is interesting for many reasons - to find out more and to help her research come and hear her speak.

She will be giving a short talk at the WAHS West Australian Herpetological Society July meeting at the Gould League Centre, Herdsman Lake Wembley on July 4th. Details via

Dugite (Pseudonaja affinis)
ANIMAL IN FOCUS: Brushtail Possum - Trichosurus vulpecula
The Brushtail Possum is a cat sized marsupial, in fact probably the most widespread of all marsupials in Australia. Some 6 subspecies are recognised, as there is quite some size and colour variation across their range. In NZ they have become a major pest species since their introduction in 1837 for fur farming. In south-western WA they are a silver grey colour with a paler belly and have fearsome teeth and claws if attempts are ever made to catch one!

Possums are considered herbivores, with leaves making up much of the diet, but are partial to insects and grubs as well. They have a high tolerance of toxic native plants and are very partial to many exotics flowers such as roses, vegetables and fruits, which brings them into conflict with gardeners and orchard owners. Their tendency to find an entrance and move into ceiling and roof spaces also makes them a common pest for many with noisy squabbles and the heavy sound of them running across roofs. They generally live in tree hollows and fallen logs but on largely treeless Barrow Island they live on the ground, utilising limestone caves and other shelters.

Studies have shown they spend about 44% of their time sleeping or sheltering, 30% travelling, 16% feeding and 10% grooming. They can breed continuously when conditions are favourable but more often in autumn and spring. A single young is born 16-18 days after mating and will spend about 5 months in the pouch attached to one of the two teats. They then spend another two months suckling and riding on mums back before becoming fully independent.

Dingo, fox, cat, quolls, monitor lizards and pythons are all predators. Possums also lose out with the reduction of suitable habitats due to housing and agriculture and in competition for refuge hollows with parakeets and bees. Populations are good though and the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has their conservation status as that of least concern.

Common Brushtail Possum, Noble Park 2012. Photo © C.Kopp

Possum in box. Photo © Animal Ark

Brushtail possum distribution map. Credit: Possum Centre

Upcoming Courses and Events
Snake Handling Course
DPaW approved for Reptile Relocator's Regulation 17 Licence
Friday 4 July 2014 - North Beach, Perth
Friday 1 August 2014 - North Beach, Perth
Friday 5 September 2014 - North Beach, Perth

Fauna Handling Course
Friday 8 August 2014 - NAR, Malaga, Perth
Friday 12 September 2014 - NAR, Malaga, Perth

Reptile Keeping Course
Saturday 19 July 2014 - NAR, Malaga, Perth
Saturday 16 August 2014 - NAR, Malaga, Perth

Public Events
Do come along and see us. Bring your family or friends as well.
The Animal Ark Roadshow will be attending the following events:

Thursday 21 August 2014
Bites and Stings Booth
St John Youth Challenge, Perth Convention Centre

Wednesday 17 September 2014
Kulunga Katitijin Festival
Kings Park, Perth
Contact the Botanic Gardens Park Authority for more details

Saturday 20 September
Fantastic Faraway Festival
Kings Park, Perth
Contact the Botanic Gardens Park Authority for more details

See our diary for more dates or contact us to book.

Call (08) 9243 3044 or email David or Jenny at to book.

Courses held monthly plus on-site and remote site training available.