Counting the Endangered Coastal Emu Population

In her capacity as a National Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger, Gina ran the 12th Coastal Emu ‘Census’ in September, in an effort to understand what is happening to the Endangered Coastal Emu Population. These surveys have been running over the last 15 years to try to monitor the range utilized by the coastal Emu and to glean important information on changes in the size of the population and their range. Despite their size, their visibility and mobile nature in a variety of sometimes dense habitat types across large areas makes achieving an exact estimate difficult. But by undertaking these surveys focusing on seasonal foraging hotspots each Spring, it is possible to monitor any major changes in numbers and range. Surveys also pick up information on vertebrate pest activity, seasonal corridors and potential threats.

Emu Road Sign 2015 copy

The Census runs on the efforts of a wonderful core group of volunteers, with a lot of new recruits also helping out this year – 55 in total! NPWS staff also participated in the search for Emu, or evidence of their presence in a range of areas in and around Yuraygir National Park, right up to the Bungawalbin area. Over 890 km of roads and trails were covered by vehicle or by foot.

Many local residents and visitors also provided information on sightings in the lead up to the survey and a number of very helpful cane farmers and tea-tree farmers assisted in providing tallies of birds on their properties over the weekend. Cane farms in the Clarence have come to provide an important seasonal food source for the coastal emu, with almost a third of the population spending months at a time on these properties.

This year a total of 99 Emus were recorded, with 58 in the Clarence Valley and 41 in the Main Camp/Bungawalbin areas. The data suggests a sharp decline in the Clarence population over the last couple of years, but this may be attributable to several factors. Larger groups of birds have not been seen on cane farms around the Shark Creek area (although cane farmers usually see birds returning when green manure crops are planted (Nov – Jan). No adults or chicks were seen around the Minnie Water, Wooli area in last 8 months and no birds were seen in the Pebbly Beach / Station Creek area over the last year either.

The survey was scheduled in September in order to coincide with young chicks emerging around the Valley (particularly in the coastal villages). However it appears that birds are either nesting later or re-nesting, therefore emerging later.

Gina will be recording sightings of new clutches over the next couple of months (and can provide updates and further detailed information to anyone who is interested).

Fortunately there have been no reported vehicle strikes of Emu for two years running now. NPWS continues to work for Emu conservation in a number of ways, including:

  • Maintaining road signs with running tallies in the Coastal areas of the Clarence to help raise the profile of the Coastal emu and encourage motorists to slow down on our coastal roads.
  • Working with the RMS to develop strategies to maintain connectivity pre and post construction of the pending Pacific Highway upgrade to minimize impact on the Coastal Emu population.
  • Assisting local cane farmers and park neighbours in controlling wild dogs/foxes. Cane farmers regularly report dogs chasing emus on their properties.
  • Assisting local park neighbours in pig control and trapping programs.  Over 200 pigs have been trapped in the Clarence over the last 18 months.  Pigs are likely to be having a significant impact on nesting birds.
  • Installation of Emu signage in the Bungawalbin area (thanks to a donation from Byron Bird Buddies to purchase the signs).

Many information gaps essential to the management of the Coastal Emu remain, including location of nesting areas, threats from vertebrate pests, distances and seasonal routes travelled, demographics etc. NPWS continues to seek opportunities to undertake further research in order to identify and mitigate threats to the population and will continue:

  • the ‘living with wildlife’ schools program with a focus on the Coastal Emu;
  • seeking the support of local farmers to report sightings and look out for nests and chicks; and,
  • running a cooperative vertebrate pest programs with park neighbours.

Contact: Gina Hart, National Parks and Wildlife Ranger, (02) 66 411 521; [email protected]


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