The Last Lap

While today there is a greater appreciation for the beautiful Swamp wallaby, Wallabia bicolor, this was not always the case. An August 1933 edition of the Muswellbrook Chronicle casually prompted readers to heed ‘the last lap’ – a reminder that the open season for kangaroos, wallaroos, scrub and swamp wallabies would terminate on the 31st of that month.   Despite many years of open hunting...
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Common brush tail possum: A difficult past

A 1904 edition of Australia’s Town and Country Journal described in excruciating detail the “favourite evening pastime” of shooting possums out of trees “merely for the sport”. Thankfully that pastime is now illegal and the Common brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula, is now one of the best known and most frequently encountered marsupials in Australia. It is well adapted to urban living and...
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Meerkat: Our love affair with meerkats

The delightful Meerkat sprang to worldwide fame with the screening of Animal Planet’s Meerkat Manor series. The Meerkat, Suricata suricatta, is a native of the southern African plains.   Meerkats from close gregarious groups where all adults participate in child-rearing. Meerkats forage in groups with a few taking on the role of lookout as they scan the skies and the plains for danger. So...
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Harbour seal: Victim of the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Recognised as the world’s most widely distributed seal, the Harbour seal, Phoca vitulina, can be found in the temperate and subarctic waters of both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Phoca vitulina has five recognised subspecies, including P. v. stejnegeri featured here. The IUCN note that the population dynamics of this subspecies are not well documented. While it appears to have increased...
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Grey wolf: Making a slow comeback

Once widespread across North America, the Grey wolf, Canis lupus, is now only found in Canada, Alaska and a small number of the lower 48 states. The Grey wolf lives in packs of up to 15, with 4 to 7 being most common. Its vital ecosystem services have now been widely recognised and its reintroduction into areas like Yellowstone National Park has done much to restore a measure of ecosystem...
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Bighorn sheep: A skilled rock climber

Found throughout parts of the Canadian Rockies and south into the United States, the Bighorn sheep, Ovis canadensis, is one of three species of mountain sheep in North America. Within its range it favours rocky cliffs and other difficult to access places, probably to avoid predators and to avoid competition from other grazers. The Bighorn usually lives in herds of up to 15 animals comprised of...
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Steller sea lion: Largest of all the sea lions

While bears are one of the drawcards for wildlife tourists visiting the Pacific North West through to Alaska, another mammal larger than any of the bears can also be seen along those coastlines and adjacent islands. The male Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus, can grow to 3.2m long and weigh in at up to 1,000kg. Like other sea lions and seals it is a piscivore, feeding primarily on fish. When...
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Mule deer: 310 degree vision

The gentle but wary gaze of the Mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus, can be seen across much of Canada and the western half of the United States. Also known as the Black-tailed deer it probably received its most often used common name from its ability to move its large ears independently of each other, which is a trait it shares with mules. The location of its eyes on the side of its head give the...
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Northern raccoon: ‘Scratches with his hands’

Endemic to the Americas, the Northern raccoon, Procyon lotor, is common within its range from southern Canada through most of the United States. Not much bigger than a domestic cat, this iconic little animal is an adaptable and resourceful omnivore. The raccoon has extremely nimble fingers, which gives it a dexterity almost comparable to that of a monkey. This is undoubtedly why its common name...
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American black bear: A North American icon

The adaptable nature of the iconic American black bear, Ursus americanus, has helped it retain the status as the most abundant bear on Earth. With an estimated population of 400,000 across North America, they are well adapted to a variety of habitats including forested areas near major urban centres. Although belonging to the order Carnivora, Black bears are true omnivores exploiting seasonally...
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Elk, Cervus elaphus canadensis

The primarily nocturnal Elk, Cervus elapses canadensis, is also particularly active at dusk and dawn. Despite its large size an Elk can move through a forest almost silently. The size of an elk herd can reach as high as 200 individuals but in forests herds tend to be much smaller. Herds are primarily made up of cows and calves with bull elk maintaining separate herds away from the main herd....
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Red squirrel: a sweet tooth for maple syrup

Across much of Alaska, the Canadian Rockies and many parts of the United States, the industrious little Red squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus can be frequently seen scurrying around coniferous forests. It feeds mainly on pine seeds but it will also exploit a range of other foods when they are seasonally available. One of the tell tale signs of its presence are the little piles of cone remnants...
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Common ringtail possum: Recycling faecal pellets

The Common ringtail possum, Pseudocheirus peregrinus, is one of the most frequently seen marsupials on Australia’s east coast. It is well adapted to the urban landscape and will happily utilise suitable trees for food and shelter. It feeds on the leaves and flowers of a variety of native and introduced species. It what could be seen as the ultimate in recycling, the Ringtail possum...
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Flying-foxes – a precarious existence

When you listen to the clamour and chatter of a flying-fox roost or watch the seemingly endless evening fly-out from a large flying-fox colony, it is hard to imagine that we could ever be at risk of losing them. Most people are surprised to learn just how precarious their existence can be. Habitat loss has had a huge impact on  flying-foxes. In 1928 when Frances Ratcliffe undertook his famous...
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Flying-foxes: Australia’s forest angels

Most people living on Australia’s east coast are likely to be familiar with the night time sound of flying-foxes squabbling as they feed on native and introduced trees in the urban landscape. What many may not know is that flying-foxes have a lead role in shaping and maintaining the biological and genetic diversity of Australia’s unique forests. When a flying-fox feeds on flower nectar, it’s not...
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