Conservation & Breeding Projects
As well as regular contributions to a number of wildlife conservation funds, we also house our own breeding programs and focus heavily on wildlife education .
This year we look forward to exciting advances in our captive breeding
- Southern/Two-wattled Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii)
- Estuarine Crocodile ( Crocodylus porosus )
- Northern Bettong (Bettongia tropica)
- Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus)
- Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)
- Nail-tailed Wallaby (Onychogalea unguifera)
- Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi)
- Black-headed python (Aspidites melanocephalus)
There are many different factors to consider when setting up and maintaining sustainable breeding programs, and breeding Cassowaries is no exception.
Knowledge of the genetics of both male and female cassowaries is crucial in order to produce viable, healthy young. Yarrabah originates from wild stock, and because many captive individuals are closely related, it is often difficult to find a genetically compatible animal. In fact there is very limited breeding in captivity for this very reason.
Crucially, this means there is no release program for the Southern Cassowary, as those young born in captivity are not genetically viable.
But the search is on for Yarrabah, and we hope to find him a female companion very soon. Watch this space!
Even if the genetics were sound, we still have a way to go in order to ensure the sustainability of wild Cassowary populations. This is largely due to how and where we can relocate the captive-bred individuals.
Cassowaries need a large area to live in and their habitat is sadly in decline. Although scientists have established that Cassowaries can survive remarkably well in areas of largely logged forest, it is clear that in order to breed successfully, Cassowaries need to have access to abundant fruit supplies. This means that during breeding seasons (June to October), individuals and pairs will be forced to compete for resources, putting a strain on population levels. In order to help the Cassowary survive into the future, we need to conserve and restore their habitat.
Fragmentation of prime rainforest habitat is a major contributing factor towards Cassowary decline. Isolating pockets of rainforest, by changing the surrounding landscape for agricultural or industrial purposes, has separated the Cassowary population into smaller “ metapopulations ”. The genetic constriction of these isolated groups increases, and the viability of offspring declines.
So to effectively manage existing and future successful populations of the Southern Cassowary, we need to link these pockets of rainforest using “corridors” of vegetation.
Here at Billabong Sanctuary we're really proud of the success we've had in breeding our Estuarine Crocodiles. Here's some of the techniques we plan to use to boost our numbers still further:
Conditioning of females
In the past, female crocodiles were conditioned by way of feeding during croc shows. This year we complimented their feeding on shows by feeding once a week substantially more. During the nesting season they tend to not want to feed during shows.This will hopefully improve their overall condition much sooner ready for the next breeding season.
Egg collection and management
Due to the naturally poor success rate of hatchling crocodiles in the wild, we tend to give our Mums a helping hand and we incubate all our crocodile eggs. When collecting the eggs, it is important to mark the top of the egg, and maintain the same relative positioning of each egg as they are transferred into the incubator trays. This is because of the position the embryo inside the egg; if you turn the eggs over after a certain point during development, the baby crocodile could drown.
The temperature and humidity of the eggs is also crucial so we keep a close eye our incubator daily.
To increase hatch rate percentage a new incubator will be constructed and changes to incubation technique will be made. Nest raiding and egg handling within 24 hours of egg deposition will also ensure a more successful hatch rate.
Female croc swapping in the captive crocodile world is totally accepted! In fact, if you keep the same pair together for too long, the viability of offspring can drop off. This is sometimes thought to be due to the removal of eggs from the nest (the female thinks the male is not successful because her young never appear).
So to keep our breeding crocodiles producing, we swap around our females from time to time.
This year, Snapper (with Weipa) and Billabong Belle (with Snappy Tom) are likely to switch partners.
The risks involved with swapping females are very serious. Males have been known to reject females, and with a weight ratio of 10:1, the female can be in grave danger.
We will be more generous with the amount of nesting material. Equally, the earlier we introduce the material(1 month earlier than previous), the better chance the females have to nest up and lay their eggs.
There are only three known populations of Northern Bettong, each of which occurs in small areas of tropical north Queensland between Mt. Windsor Tablelands and Paluma. A fourth population is thought to exist at Ravenshoe, but has not been confirmed in most recent studies. Only one of the populations is thought to be sustainable, whereby others only contain a handful of individuals.
At Billabong, we have some great experience and ideal conditions for the breeding of Northern Bettong. However, our colony is somewhat genetically inferior to wild populations, and we are looking to acquire some new individuals. In collaboration with Queensland Parks and Wildlife, Billabong Sanctuary is hoping to be one of the few wildlife parks privileged enough to play a part in the rehabilitation of wild Northern Bettong populations.
Our future prospects with these precious little potoroids looks promising, and we look forward to helping towards the removal of Northern Bettongs from the “Endangered” list.
Here at Billabong Sanctuary, we're pleased to have been successful in breeding Common wombats in the past. In fact, our last edition (Nugget) was born in December 2004.
Looking to the future, we would like to have a breeding colony of wombats, in addition to our “on-show” wombats, and build a large enclosure off display, purely for breeding purposes. This will enable our breeding wombats to enjoy a little privacy, peace and quiet.
When building an enclosure for public display, there are a number of considerations to be met with respect to public viewing. Enclosures are purposely designed to give the wombat the best possible life, whilst still enabling the public to view them.
However, with an off-display enclosure, we can give our wombats an environment much more conducive to breeding as there will be no trade off with viewing.
Until recently, Billabong Sanctuary has found it more of a viable option to purchase new koalas from other parks, as opposed to breeding in-house.
But with the introduction of experienced staff in koala breeding, Billabong Sanctuary is looking to the future with a very different and exciting approach.
At the beginning of 2006, we began to establish a sustainable breeding colony of koalas. We kicked off the project with great success, and five of our females mated successfully and consequently gave birth to five healthy joeys.
The beginning of 2006 also saw the launch of our new Koala Crescent walk-through patting area, which serves a double purpose. Not only is the walk-through area popular with visitors (taking the strain away from the handling koalas), but it also serves as a conditioning ground for our future handlers. Koala Crescent is ideal to prepare our young koalas fairly early on in life so they get used to human touch and contact.
If our young koalas are suitable for handling, they will become part of the handling cohort. Males will be used until around 8 years old (if necessary), females will only be used for handling until they are 2 years old. Following this period of time, koalas will be “retired” and form part of the breeding colony. Any koalas not suitable for handling will automatically form part of the breeding colony.
With this new and exciting approach to captive koala management, Billabong Sanctuary is hopeful that a sustainable colony will provide a stronger genetic diversity (we already have 6 healthy, breeding females). Also, in time, the increased number of handling koalas will reduce the amount of time that any one koala will be handled (and I'm sure everyone can see the benefit this brings!).
The captive breeding of Northern Nail-tailed Wallabies has huge implications for their endangered cousins, the Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby.
Scientists and wildlife parks are to work together on setting up a similar system to that employed in the conservation of Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. That is, by learning more of the breeding ecology of the northern species, we can begin to understand more about the Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby, and hopefully work towards the conservation of one of Australia 's most curious marsupials.
Very few parks in Australia house the valuable northern species and Billabong Sanctuary is fortunate to be one of these. With the acquisition of four individuals in 2005 and plans to house still more individuals, we hope to make a significant contribution to the conservation of both Northern and Bridled Nail-tailed Wallabies.
These are precious birds indeed, and a species we are fortunately in a position to help conserve.
There are 6 different species of Eclectus parrot but only one is found on the Australian mainland. Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi is restricted in its range to to the unique lowland rainforest of Cape York peninsula .
Habitat destruction is by far the biggest threat to this beautiful bird but the illegal pilfering of eggs for commercial gain is also endangering its existence.
Breeding Eclectus parrots is a new venture for the Billabong Sanctuary. As well as increasing the number of pairs and improving our Eclectus gene pool, we are endeavoring to develop our enclosures in order to ensure the best possible environment for our breeding birds.
Historically, Billabong Sanctuary has not attempted to undertake any breeding of pythons. But as we have an excess of handling Black-headed pythons, and recent sexing of all our handling pythons has given us some interesting surprises (Nat is now Nathalie!), we are now embarking on a new venture to enrich staff knowledge.
Great entertainment for all ages – Harte Family, Kalgoorlie
Amazing best part of the holiday WOW – The Washs Family, UK