Platypus surveys find new bundles of joy

REGION - There are many stories which encapsulate what wetlands, streams and rivers mean to Wimmera people such as the survival of the region's small and fragile platypus population in the MacKenzie River.

Josh Griffiths from Melbourne-based environmental research company cesar, with a male platypus.

Josh Griffiths from Melbourne-based environmental research company cesar, with a male platypus.

Maintaining and improving habitat for animals like the platypus that rely upon a healthy river are among priorities of the Wimmera Waterway Strategy.

If you hear cheers and shouts from the Horsham offices of Wimmera Catchment Management Authority don't be alarmed. It's just the sound of staff and board members celebrating the momentous occasion of the arrival of not one but two platypuses - a boy and a girl.

It is the first time in more than a decade researchers have discovered juvenile platypus in Wimmera surveys in the MacKenzie River.

Surveyors also found a sub-adult male around 18 months old and recaptured an adult male they first discovered in 2012.

Wimmera CMA chief executive David Brennan said the results had created much excitement for staff and board members, who were more accustomed to findings of one to two, and often zero.

He said the findings were a testament to the ability of the small and fragile population of the native Australian mammals to adapt to extreme conditions including drought, floods and two fires.

The MacKenzie River is the region's most important refuge for platypus because of excellent quality habitat and water quality.

"We booked the surveys in last year as part of our regular environmental water release monitoring program, but researchers held slim hopes for finding platypus after known platypus 'hot spots' in the river suffered significant damage in the January fires in the Grampians National Park."

He said survey results also spoke volumes about the CMA's ongoing work for a healthy Wimmera catchment where a resilient landscape supported a sustainable and profitable community.

"The discovery of this iconic species breeding in our catchment after years of serious threats to their survival is a fantastic sign that we're achieving our goals for a healthy catchment," Mr Brennan said.

Wildlife ecologist Josh Griffiths from Melbourne-based environmental research company cesar said it was amazing to find any platypus after January's fires and other extreme events of the past 12 years.

"After all the stresses the MacKenzie River platypus population has been through it's great to find any and to find four, including two juveniles that shows they are breeding, is the best possible result we could ever hope for," Josh said.

"I admit I had very low expectations, especially after the January fires which burnt right down to the banks of the river, but because of environment water releases, the river didn't stop flowing during the fire period and we believe this played a major part in their ability to survive."

Josh said the two-night survey started in damp conditions. The survey team of himself and a Queensland wildlife university student checked the nets on the first night at 11pm.

"To get to the first net and see a bit of movement was pretty exciting, and then to discover it was a juvenile male was just fantastic," Josh said.

"Finding another platypus an hour later, this time the sub-adult male, kept us awake and very enthused. We couldn't believe our luck in catching our second juvenile, this time a female, at dawn. To get three in the one night is highly unusual and was just amazing."

Josh, who likened finding platypus in the Wimmera to finding a needle in a haystack, said they caught the adult male at dawn on the second morning.

He said all platypuses were in good condition which indicated an abundance of food.

"Although this platypus population is still fragile, these survey results are extremely encouraging, particularly from the perspective of the environmental watering program which is one of the key reasons why the platypuses are still here."

Since 2008, cesar researchers have surveyed for platypuses on behalf of Wimmera CMA and Project Platypus. They have completed surveys in the Wimmera River and its tributaries including the MacKenzie River and Mt William and Mt Cole Creeks.

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