Wildlife attacks uncovered at Fitzroy River

October 30, 2012

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Ranger John Albert with the shot goanna on the Fitzroy River (Pic: Boonya Marshall)

A Murdoch University researcher has uncovered a series of brutal attacks on wildlife living in and around the Fitzroy River, including a number of slaughtered sawfish – a species identified recently as facing extinction.

Dr David Morgan from the Freshwater Fish Group saw the aftermath of the attacks on a goanna and sawfish while working on the iconic Kimberley river with the Nyikina Mangala Rangers.

He is collaborating with them to tag and survey Fitzroy River freshwater sawfish and dwarf sawfish so that they can learn how their populations are moving through the river. So far 700 sawfish have been tagged.

“While looking for one of our lost sawfish receivers, we noticed a large Barney (goanna), that had a hunting arrow shot through its neck, for no reason,” said ranger co-ordinator Boonya Marshall.

“As we gave it a fright, ranger John Albert dove in into crocodile infested waters out of the dinghy and plucked it out of the water.”

The arrow was removed and the goanna released. The team were also shocked to uncover a host of other human related impacts during their recent survey, picking up eight bags of rubbish from one site beside the river.

“Unfortunately we see this sort of thing happening to sawfish very frequently,” said Dr Morgan.

“We’ve found them dead with fish hooks left in or sometimes without their saws. This is a critically endangered species and if they are caught accidentally, people should be letting them go completely unharmed.

“Even if sawfish survive being caught or having their saws cut off, their survival chances are impacted because of any resulting injuries or infections. And sawfish without their saws find it more difficult to hunt and to feed. Chopping them off is an act of cruelty which could lead to their deaths.”

Dr Morgan and the team’s work, which is funded by the State National Resource Management program, has shown that sawfish populations are this year holding their own in the river.

Two sawfish were found to have moved more than 100km since the last wet season, while the acoustic tracking demonstrated that another was shown to have swum 100km in one day.

“It is great to work with the rangers and to help not only the goanna but to help these sawfish, not only by promoting their rarity, but by removing hooks and lines from more than half the sawfish we caught,” added Dr Morgan.

“If you catch a tagged sawfish, please let it go but be sure to report the tag number to our team so that we can learn more about their movements. This will help us to plan for their management and conservation in the years ahead.”

To report a tagged sawfish, follow the Team Sawfish web link here.

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