Two Potoroos taking shelter in a wombat hole

'Knowing our Southern Ark cameras and their data in East Gippsland were at risk of being lost, I had a quick look over the fire map and cross-referenced it with the location of the Southern Ark camera trap sites.

I estimated that we have probably lost 170 of the 240 cameras we had out in the bush, but more may be lost in the next couple of weeks if fire activity flares up in those areas where we cannot get access, such as around Bendoc.

Of significance is the impact of these fires on Long-footed Potoroos (LFPs), which are only found in Victoria and which have a very strong population in Far East Gippsland following a decade of effective fox control.

I reviewed the 5sq km cells where we have our camera traps and compared the sites where we have detected LFPs with the mapped area that has been burnt. It was a bad/good news story.

The bad news is that LFPs were camera trapped in late 2019 in 72 cells that just been burnt by this fire.

The good news is that they were also camera trapped at 16 cells that had not yet been burnt, at sites towards Bendoc (north of the fire) but also east of Orbost (south of the fire).

While this is definitely NOT what we would have wanted, it does give us an unprecedented opportunity to look at post-fire recovery of LFPs, along with a range of other species.

I'm confident that many LFPs survived the fire.

I know it sounds a bit like a Disney movie to think that a bunch of critters would take refuge in wombat burrows as a fire front moves through, but there is enough anecdotal evidence to believe it does actually happen.

As a result of 14 cameras collected from unburnt locations east of Orbost (near Cape Conran), we increased the number of unburnt 5sq km cells where Long-footed Potoroos have been detected over the past couple of months to 19, compared to the 72 cells that have been burnt.

Two Long-foots were photographed at one of the three cameras that were collected, in forest off the Conran-Cabbagetree Road.

Southern Ark team member Peter Lohr (Southern Ark Team, Natural Environments Program, Orbost) was helicoptered into Bendoc on a special mission - to recover as many as 33 Reconyx cameras still deployed in unburnt forest north of the Snowy fire complex.

On Saturday, 11 January he recovered five of the cameras that were most "at risk" of getting burnt during back-burning operations, so well done Peter!

The 33 cameras would be a loss, but more importantly, they will also have invaluable data on the SD cards that's been collected over the past five weeks.

Over two days "Two-metre Peter” did the hard yards, collecting more than 30 cameras across a pretty big area of unburnt forest in the bush close to the town of Bendoc.

Getting these cameras out of the bush has ensured that neither they or their SD cards will get burnt by either the wildfire or by any back-burning taking place.

These cameras were placed as part of the Southern Ark wildlife monitoring program, and the data will be invaluable when we compare the data to the post-fire recovery of our wildlife.'

Page last updated: 07/02/20