Emu numbers still declining in Clarence
WITH little more than one hundred coastal emus left in the Clarence Valley, sightings are becoming increasingly rare.
The decline of the endangered native bird in the region is a concern for National Parks ranger Gina Hart, who gave the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition an update on the status of the local population - one of only two in New South Wales - and the threats they face, on Monday.
Ms Hart said while there was no accurate way to get a definitive idea of local numbers, the size of the population was estimated to be between 100-120 birds.
"The only other populations at Bungawulbin; the Bundjalung population is no more," she said.
And while National Parks and wildlife groups have a fair idea of what may be causing the decline, it is still an area where more research is needed.
"It's very difficult for us to know definitely but vertebrate pests such as dogs, foxes and pigs certainly impact both on nesting birds, chicks and juveniles," she said.
"We know vehicles obviously have an impact. There have been 71 known vehicle collisions with emus in the last 14 years."
Coutts Crossing ecologist and wildlife guide Greg Clancy and a fellow environmentalist are also trying to get a more detailed answer on why the flightless birds are in decline, and have just finished 20 surveys of their known habitats to get a better idea of what is happening on the ground.
In their assessment of various sites from Brooms Head to Minnie Water they collected scats, and observed a pack of dingoes following the scent of the emus.
They also noticed a significant drop in signs of habitation in the Wooli/Minnie Water region.
"There really appears to be a recent decline in Wooli and Minnie Water; they used to be seen there quite often," he said.
"We found a few footprints and scats but we expected more than we had."
The surveys were funded by the Norman Wettanhall Foundation, and managed through Clarence Landcare Inc.
"We need to know a lot more about what's preying on them," Dr Clancy said.
"This was a pilot study but we're hoping to get more funding to spend more time in the field.
"We know they get hit by cars and the highway is going to add an extra pressure, and we suspect things like pigs eat the eggs and disturb nest.
"We're hoping eventually if we can find some nests we might be able to put some cameras on them."
The Pacific Hwy upgrade has also been highlighted as a significant concern for the coastal emus, with the route set to dissect their natural habitat.
Ms Hart said National Parks was working with Road and Maritime Services to explore ways to reduce the impact, including the possible construction of 'nature underpasses' which would run under the highway.
But as the method has not been trialled before, its effectiveness won't be known until it's built.