One of the most fun things that Elias and I have found to do at this housesit is spotlighting - we take a big 6 v flashlight out to the neighborhood golf course just after dusk and look for marsupials, which are mostly nocturnal. This picture was taken before we went out last night, as Elias practiced his search image with 'possum', one of his many stuffed animals.
Every time we go spotlighting we see brushtail possums, which are big and impressive for arboreal animals, and also not very fleet, which makes them a great viewing species for an almost-four-year-old. We also see pademelons every time - little kangaroos 70 cm tall or so. One memorable time we saw a potoroo, an even smaller, and, at least for this individual, much more shy kangaroo - one flash and it was gone.
Alisa and Eric came along for the first time last night. It was a brisk night, good for walking but after a while a little too cold for an almost-four-year-old. At first we walked a little faster than normal, which is often the case when you go wildlife-viewing with a new group, and so we didn't see much. At one point Alisa asked, "Do you normally see something by now?"
But then we got a real treat - an eastern barred bandicoot, which we normally see only about every third time we go. They're not at all shy, and this one hopped along the fairway right towards us, getting within 7 or 8 meters or so. We even got a picture.
Bandicoots are delightful little marsupials that, in our experience of them, bound frantically from one spot to another on the golf course, nosing around for worms and other invertebrates. It's amazing how easy it is to see these little critters right on the edge of Kingston.
There's a poignant twist, though. Eastern barred bandicoots are common in Tassie, but they're on the verge of extirpation from the mainland, with the population estimated at 200 individuals. The main cause of their demise has been introduced European foxes.
Pademelons are already extinct from the mainland, due to...foxes.
Ditto bettongs, another kangaroo species still common in Tasmania.
And now foxes have reached Tassie, either as deliberate introductions, or as stowaways on ships from Melbourne. Since 2002, 56 scats from the island have been genetically confirmed as fox scat. There's an effort to eradicate them, but Tasmania is a very big island, with lots of places to hide, and foxes are incredibly wary. If the fox population becomes established here, the bandicoots and pademelons and bettongs and a heap of other species are looking at the abyss.
Australia is the global capital for historical vertebrate extinctions - according to Wikipedia, if you count both species and sub-species, 23 birds, four frogs and 27 mammals have gone extinct here since 1788. Although millions of dollars are being spent on fox eradication in Tassie, it's hard to look at the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on extending the highway south of Hobart without seeing where true priorities lie.
A big theme of our trip across the Pacific was enjoying the world as we found it, and not getting stuck on always bemoaning the changes that have inevitably come along to this place or that. I guess that's what Elias and I are doing when we go spotlighting - we're delighting in how easy it is for us to see animals that remain very exotic to my eyes. Hopefully an adult Elias won't look back in wonder - did it really happen? - at a time when he and his dad could go out with a flashlight and look at bandicoots and pademelons, just like that.