Platypus encounters: make your sightings count
Posted on 16 June, 2021 by Ivan
We love our most unusual mammal, the platypus, and are lucky enough to have some low but viable populations in the rivers and waterways of central Victoria, including our very own Campbells Creek. Monitoring key species can teach us about the health of local ecosystems and alert us to changes in the environment.
Our friends at the Australian Platypus Conservancy encourage all community members to report all platypus sightings via the APC website, which will then feed the data into the national biodiversity databases. This is vitally important for decision-makers and funding bodies. Please read on for details from APC regarding the importance of reporting platypus sightings and how to complete this task.
Make your sightings count
Recent efforts to assess the platypus’s national conservation status have highlighted the value of having a reliable set of platypus sightings records that can be used to help analyse population trends across the species’ range.
Backed by considerable federal funding, the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) was launched in 2010 with the worthy aim of consolidating reliable Australian flora and fauna records from available sources – including state and territory wildlife databases, museum records and ‘citizen science’ sightings reported directly to ALA or via co-operating online platforms.
The Australian Platypus Conservancy began routinely recording the details of platypus sightings made by its own staff or other persons in 1994, and extended this program to include reports of rakali (aka Australian water-rats) in 2004. All of the APC’s past records for both species have now been shared with ALA, with more recent reports uploaded on a regular quarterly basis. Around 21% of the approximately 13,500 platypus records currently held by ALA (dating back to the 1830s) have been contributed by the Conservancy. Likewise, the Conservancy has provided just over 27% of the nearly 8,000 rakali records held by ALA dating back to the 1840s.
As shown below, the Conservancy’s contribution to national wildlife reporting has also grown through time, comprising 46.5% of platypus records (left pie chart) and 50.5% of rakali records (right pie chart) held by ALA for the period from 2010 to 2019. This partly reflects the success of APC initiatives specifically designed to boost the number of reported sightings, such as the community-based visual surveys for rakali carried out in Victoria in 2016/17 and the ACT in 2018/19 (supported by the Wettenhall Environment Trust) and the campaign to obtain platypus sightings in the Goulburn River catchment conducted in partnership with the Goulburn Broken CMA in 2018/19.
These projects, featuring public information sessions and extensive media coverage, boosted sightings not only in the nominated time period but also in subsequent years. They thereby provide a model of how useful additional sightings records can be harvested cost-effectively for the national database.
Importantly, the Conservancy has always accepted that an essential aspect of recording platypus and rakali sightings for posterity is to identify reports that are likely to be in error. In some cases, details of an animal’s appearance or behaviour may apparently differ from those of the species nominated in the report. Other records may be suspect due to a species having been seen at a location well outside its current known range. To resolve these discrepancies, a Conservancy biologist immediately contacts whoever made the report for more information – e.g., the distance to the animal, length of time it was observed, prevailing light conditions and whether it was seen by more than one observer – to provide a factual basis for assessing the sighting’s merit.
Although visual records certainly have some limitations when used to characterise a species’ distribution and status, they nonetheless are of real interest. We therefore encourage anyone lucky enough to see a platypus or rakali in the wild to report the details via the APC website (www.platypus.asn.au) so this information can be added to the national database.
Australian Platypus Conservancy