Death traps for platypuses
11 September, 2015
Catching a feed of yabbies or freshwater crayfish is a common summer activity throughout Australia. Opera-house nets (below), which are cheap and widely available in outdoor stores, are the most commonly used device although a variety of enclosed traps, some home-made, are also used. These nets are baited with meat and then left submerged in the river, creek or dam overnight to catch yabbies.
Unfortunately, they catch much more than yabbies with many platypuses, as well as native water rats and turtles, drowning each year. Platypuses are particularly susceptible as yabbies form part of their diet so they lured into these traps by the presence of food. Once a platypus enters a trap, there is no way out and it will drown in 2-3 minutes. To compound matters, these traps are generally used during summer when female platypuses have dependent young in the burrow. If a breeding female is drowned while foraging, her young will also slowly perish. With many platypus populations under serious threat from drought and habitat destruction (platypusspot.org/blog/general-news/are-platypuses-under-threat-in-victoria), the loss of even one or two animals from the population can have dire consequences.
Use of opera-house nets is banned in public waters in Tasmania, Victoria, ACT, and eastern parts of NSW and recently Qld but enforcing these restrictions is very difficult. Use of these nets is still widespread and, unfortunately, we still receive numerous reports each summer of platypuses being drowned in them, sometimes multiple animals in a single abandoned net. I’m sure that no-one actually wants their recreational activities to result in the death of a platypus, but unfortunately many people are simply unaware of the risks posed by these traps. Part of the problem is a poor understanding of where platypuses occur as they are often elusive and rarely seen. platypusSPOT aims to address this issue by collecting sighting information form the public and making it accessible to everyone.
Over the years, various attempts have been made to convince Ministers and regulatory bodies to ban the use and/or sale of these indiscriminate death traps with limited success. In better news, the Australian Platypus Conservancy has been trialling a new opera-house net design that allows platypuses to escape (see Platypus News & Views 55/56, www.platypus.asn.au). Following successful trials, the next step is to get these into commercial production to replace the current design.
What can you do?
- Use hoop-style lift nets as a safe alternative to catch yabbies (be aware of bag-limits).
- Spread the word among your family and friends of the dangers of using these nets.
- Write to your local councillor or state Minister expressing your concern over the impact that opera-house nets have on platypuses and other wildlife.
- Report the illegal use of nets to your state wildlife authority (13 FISH in Victoria).
- Improve our knowledge of where platypuses occur by adding any past (just have a guess at the date) or present platypus sightings to the website (platypusspot.org/submit-a-sighting).
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