Ian Warden September 07, 2012
Deep in the native forests of the Nadgee Nature Reserve on the far South Coast, powder puffs (from women's make-up kits) sprinkled with a little truffle oil have just played their improbable-sounding part in capturing some thrilling wildlife footage.
Today is Threatened Species Day (it's the anniversary of the death on 7 September 1936 in Hobart Zoo of the last Tasmanian Tiger). The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage has marked the day with the release of pictures of the long-nosed potoroo. Well, of two long-nosed potoros, actually, because the video clip is of the seldom-seen-before (if ever) sight of a female tending her joey.
The pictures were gathered by a movement-sensitive remote, infrafred camera set up in Nadgee Nature Reserve on the far South Coast. And the bait used to try to lure these potoroos and other species into camera range, Michael Saxon of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, explains, is a little truffle oil (just as bought in supermarkets) put on a power puff and then put inside a plastic pipe. The truffle-attracted creatures can smell the heady perfume of the oil but can't get at it. This works, Saxon enlightens, because potoroos and others eat subterranean native fungi that are truffle-related species.
The aforementioned potoroo images are are exciting everybody in wildlife and environmental circles, including an elated Saxon. He is his Office's regional coordinator for Biodiversity and Conservation. He is an experienced potoroo-pursuer but says that out in the field and until the relatively recent employment of these super little cameras usually the most you ever saw of a potoroo "was a glimpse of its backside as it ran away".
This time, though, thanks to the clever cameras (about 80 of them have been set up, fixed to trees, in two far South Coast nature reserves) more than 300 still images were caught. They've been stitched together to create the video clip showing a rare long-nosed potoroo tending her pouch joey. This is a threatened species in NSW and is very secretive and shy so that seeing this mother with a pouch joey leaving and entering the pouch and being groomed, is, Saxon says, thrilling and "touching".
Saxon says these little cameras (you can carry 20 of them in a backpack when you got out into the field to position them) are "revolutionising" the work of researching what creatures there are in what bush bailiwicks and what they're up to. Extraordinary discoveries have been made with them, with for example species being found in places and habitats they weren't known to frequent.
And Saxon in his enthusiasm doesn't even rule out the thrilling possibility that these cameras, once arranged in extreme hard-to-get to places never yet examined, will discover unimagined new species. He points out the long-footed potoroo wasn't known to science until the 1980s.
And, though he admits to being a little bit "fanciful" in this, he says it's not utterly impossible that cameras like these in unexplored spots may one day, with their paparazzi-like tenacity, capture us and the world a Tasmanian tiger. Of course they were once, in spite of their name, a mainland as well as a Tasmanian creature before perhaps being hunted to apparent extinction.
Saxon laughs that while the posted footage of the mother and joey potoroo is beautiful and touching to look at he is withholding pictures caught by another of these cameras of a tiger quoll urinating in a most spectacular way.