By Geoff Williams, Australian Platypus Conservancy
The platypus is regarded as one the world’s strangest animals. It has a bizarre mix of mammal and reptile features plus many special adaptations, such as a unique electroreception system in its bill to help locate its food.
This fascinating species is popularly believed to be shy and sensitive, occurring only in remote, pristine waterways. In actual fact, platypuses are quite capable of living close to people, as shown by a recent study which observed platypuses foraging near some of Albury’s most heavily frequented public spaces.
The Australian Platypus Conservancy has just completed the second year of a 5-year program to examine platypus status and distribution in the Albury Wodonga region. The research, supported by Albury paper mill Norske Skog, is the first ever attempt to monitor the species in any part of the Murray River. 2011/12 results indicated a small increase in overall numbers compared to the previous year. There also appeared to be a shift in the way that platypuses were distributed along the five kilometres of river channel monitored by the Conservancy. A significant increase was recorded in the section from Union Bridge to Albury Swimming Centre. Sightings in this area were almost double the previous year, with as many as five individual animals observed during a single survey session.
It is great to see platypus numbers increasing in the section of the river so close to Albury’s city centre. However, it is hoped that the community will take steps to ensure the animals are not harmed. Unfortunately there is litter close to the river, such as discarded fishing line which can entangle platypuses and kill them and people fishing in the river should beware of hooking platypuses. If they do catch a platypus they should make every effort to remove the hook from the bill before releasing the animal.
Yabby traps (especially “opera house” nets) are sometimes set illegally in the river. These kill platypus – up to five animals have been found drowned in a single trap. Irresponsible boating and use of jet skis can also pose a direct threat to platypuses – and humans – and damage platypus habitat by causing bank erosion.
There will an illustrated talk on platypus on Wednesday 8 August at 7.30pm at Belvoir Special School, Wodonga (hosted by Friends of Willow Park) and platypus classes at Albury, Wodonga and Lavington Primary Schools. For further information go to www.platypus.asn.au.