Review: Animal Eco-Warriors

We share the world with countless species of animals, and all of them see the world in different ways to us. Dogs can smell a teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools of hot chocolate; sugar gliders love to snack on pollen, sap, and bugs; and bees use their dance skills to give each other directions. It seems inevitable, really, that people and animals would learn to work together and share our skills, so that we can all protect our home – the planet.

That’s what Animal Eco-Warriors is all about. People and animals have been teaming up all over the world, from Africa to America to Australasia and Antarctica. Nic Gill’s book is jam-packed with 17 stories about animals working with people to conserve the environment.

The cover may be colourful and crazy, but this is a book that takes its subject seriously. It’s aimed at readers aged 9-12, but don’t let the recommended ages stop you – this is a book that anyone can learn a lot from! Younger readers definitely won’t feel like they’re being talked down to – even adults will need to use the glossary from time to time, where you can find the definitions of unfamiliar words from 'biosecurity' to 'thoracic air sacs' (a special part of a bird’s respiratory system).

Fact files in yellow boxes will also clue you up on the inner workings of a dog’s amazing nose, how ruminants like goats digest weeds, and how to catch an elephant seal (but don’t try that one at home). With all this great information separated out into the glossary and fact files, you can save your studying til the end and focus on what’s really important… the stories.

Although the human-animal teams range as far afield as Utah and Mozambique, Nic Gill focuses mainly on the animal action happening in Australia and New Zealand. It may come as no surprise to learn that dogs have a big role to play in conservation. Their incredible sniffing power is used to track down koalas, seek out sausages in suitcases, and find feral predators like cats and foxes. This in turn helps people to monitor animal numbers, stop biological pests from entering certain areas, and protect native animal species that can’t defend themselves against new predators.

While dogs dominate the pages of Animal Eco-Warriors, they aren’t the only stars of the show. Sugar gliders have helped one farmer defend his trees from swarms of destructive Christmas beetles. Goats have been put to work munching on invasive weeds. Even bees have been given backpacks to help scientists work out why their numbers are falling so fast.

Nic Gill has travelled all over to meet the people who are training and working with these animals in the name of conservation. We follow her as she journeys to remote islands by boat, hikes through mountain landscapes in pursuit of tracking dogs, and chats to the fascinating people who have dedicated their lives to training animals to help the environment.

The book is filled with photos of the animal eco-warriors at work, the pest species they target, and their handlers, as well as illustrations of the inner workings of some creatures. However, this is by no means a picture book, and it treads a good line between sharing fun pictures and anecdotes, and some seriously interesting information. Plus, the investigation doesn’t need to stop at the end of the chapter: in every section, Nic Gill offers ideas and links for further research online, and even some training tips for your own pets so you can emulate some of the animals’ work at home.

Aside from a standard encounter with the biosecurity sniffer dogs at Hobart Airport, I wasn’t aware of any of these amazing human-animal conservation projects before I read this book. No matter your age, there’s plenty to learn and be entertained by.

You can purchase your copy of Animal Eco-Warriors from CSIRO Publishing.

Alex Mullarky

Alex Mullarky is a writer and environmentalist from the UK who has called Melbourne home since 2014. She is a graduate of English Literature and is particularly interested in the connection between language and landscape.

You can find her on Twitter at @saesteorra

Banner image courtesy of CSIRO.

Crowdfunding for Conservation

Crowdfunding – whereby a large amount of money is raised by the proportionally smaller donations of dozens, hundreds or thousands of contributors – has taken flight over the past few years as a means for individuals and organisations to raise funds for their passion projects. In large part, it is associated with the arts: raising money for amateur theatre groups, for student films, for independent artists’ exhibitions, for the self-publishing of books. There isn’t much you can’t crowdfund, and the support of a combination of friends, family and interested strangers has successfully funded projects as varied as collecting meteorites from the Nullarbor or paying the vet bills of two dogs who had a brush with a porcupine.

As the practice has evolved, particularly in Australia, more and more groups have come to recognise the potential of crowdfunding to support conservation. In 2014, a group of lobbyists and scientists who have studied the montane ash forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria for more than 30 years, launched a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible to gather public support for the proposed Great Forest National Park: a large protected area for the region which would preserve more than 500, 000 hectares of forest. The highly successful campaign, which raised $71, 965 (significantly exceeding its target of $60, 000), directed funds to community outreach and broader awareness-raising about the park proposal to the Victorian public.

Funds are also being crowdsourced for conservation on the ground. In November, a campaign led by Mt Rothwell Landcare Volunteers entitled “Quoll in the hand, worth 2 in the bush” successfully raised more than $11, 000 for a captive breeding program for Eastern Quolls: an iconic species that is extinct in the wild on the Australian mainland. Another campaign, “Where do Wedgies Dare?”, run by environmental scientist Simon Cherriman, has raised more than $20, 000 to monitor a pair of wedge-tailed Eagles by GPS tracking, with the aim of learning more about the raptors’ biology.

This growing propensity to turn to the general public for funding could be seen as an indicator that funding from traditional sources is increasingly less available. However, an initiative by DELWP (the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) in Victoria demonstrates that the government is aware of the medium’s potential. The Threatened Species Collection, currently running on Pozible, is a group of five campaigns aimed at protecting some of Victoria’s most vulnerable species. Each campaign in the collection that successfully reaches its target will receive dollar-for-dollar matched funding from DELWP. White-bellied sea-eagles and brush-tailed phascogales are among the species intended to receive support from the campaigns, run by a collection of community landcare and conservation groups. This and similar projects would allow the government to invest in those issues deemed most important by the Australian public itself.

That crowdfunding for conservation is enjoying such success in Australia indicates just how much the general public cares for the natural world. The community is already heavily involved in conservation on their own land and in the lands that surround them, and is deeply invested in the future of the country and its species. Crowdfunding for conservation projects is a natural extension of an extant love for the Australian landscape, and the inclination of its people to take conservation into their own hands.

Cover image by Robert Geary Photo and is used with permission.

Alex Mullarky

Alex Mullarky is a freelance journalist and works part-time in threatened species conservation. Her other passion is ex-racehorse rehabilitation and she is currently completing her Masters.

You can find her on Twitter at @ajmullarky