Tracking project emus strike trouble when released

Sightings of the coastal emu in the Clarence Valley have become increasingly rare in recent years.
Sightings of the coastal emu in the Clarence Valley have become increasingly rare in recent years. Contributed

THREE coastal emus have died and another three have been injured since being released into the wild as part of a tracking project.

Tracking cuffs were attached to the hand-raised emus before they were sent into the wild near Taloumbi as part of the Woolgoolga-to-Ballina Pacific Hwy upgrade project.

Three of the birds were recaptured and found with abrasions from the tracking cuffs as well as injuries from barbed wire fencing, while three others were mauled and killed by wild dogs or dingoes.

The state and federally funded trial has been called off, with a full review done to see how the birds were injured.

It is not yet clear whether the tracking devices had any impact on the three deaths, but local ecologist Dr Greg Clancy said he had always had reservations about the value of the satellite tracking study, particularly as the birds were raised in captivity.

"Even if the study had been successful and the emus with trackers had been followed for the full duration of the study I doubt that it would have provided any- thing of real value in dealing with the threat to them from the planned Pacific Highway upgrade through their territory," he said.

"I support any research that can provide a better insight into the ecology and conservation of wild emus and detailed field studies are required to do this.

"Satellite tracking is only one potential way of studying the species and it is fraught with problems as this trial has demonstrated."

He said he was also concerned emus suffered greatly from stress and any attempt to catch and track wild emus that hadn't had close contact with humans, as proposed in the EIS, was likely to cause injury or death to the birds.

"This failed monitoring is part of a flawed strategy to deal with the insurmountable problems of building a freeway through the habitat of the coastal emu."

Roads and Maritime Services ran the study with help from a local wildlife carer, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Taronga Western Plains Zoo.

"The study aimed to track the released emus for up to 18 months to determine their movements, habitat and the success of released captive birds back into the wild," an RMS spokeswoman said.

"The study team is looking into why the birds sustained cuff-related injuries as the tracking devices used on cassowary research did not experience similar issues."

She said, despite the trial being cancelled early, results from the study to date would still be considered for the project's environmental impact statement which includes a Biodiversity Connectivity Strategy which identifies measures to manage potential impacts on the coastal emu population.

"Monitoring the emus after the freeway is built will only serve to monitor the decline in the species, which is a local icon," Dr Clancy said. "If a decline is detected the freeway won't be moved. The only real and practical answer is to totally avoid the emu's habitat by adopting the orange option."

Topics:  pacific highway

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