by Neil Andison
WHO would have thought that one shy platypus in danger would lead to 10 being sighted in a single visit to one of South-East Queensland’s most beautiful locations, less than 90 minutes north of the state capital, Brisbane?
What’s a platypus?
A platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is an elusive, semi-aquatic, monotreme (egg-laying mammal) with a duck-like bill that doubles as a specialised sensory organ, webbed feet with venomous spurs plus a dense, fur coat that protects it when it dives under water. Because these much-loved Australian native mammals burrow, shelter and lay their eggs in the sides of creek banks, they are particularly vulnerable to habitat degradation, litter and pollution.
When an elusive platypus recently surfaced with a rubber band around her torso, local Maleny resident and photographer, Neil Andison successfully captured an image and posted the distressing sight on the Maleny & Surrounds Chit Chat page on Facebook.
This prompted local wildlife carers to look at how to potentially capture and remove the band from this platypus.
But their efforts were unsuccessful.
The platypus was monitored but this was a difficult situation because these shy creatures are very difficult to capture and, when removed from their own environment, tend not to fare well.
After identifying her as a female, Neil named the platypus Bandit.
Her predicament triggered a special Clean Up Australia Day Event, co-ordinated by local resident Jo Turner.
There are two kinds of people, there are the people who think that’s this is everybody’s else’s problem or there are the people who see a problem and say I can do something about that …”
Jo Turner, Maleny volunteer
An enthusiastic group of local volunteers scoured riverbanks, bushland and creeks, removing debris and litter from this otherwise unspoiled environment.
Jo explained that organising these clean-ups had helped her connect to her community and helped many others connect as well.
“There are two kinds of people, there are the people who think that’s this is everybody’s else’s problem or there are the people who see a problem and say I can do something about that, so if everybody did a little something that would be very powerful,” Jo said.
Less than six months later, with three clean-ups since completed, local residents have been richly rewarded.
Up to 10 platypus have been sighted traversing the again-pristine waterway, along with other wildlife that call the lush bushland and creek-side area home.
Where was Bandit sighted?
Bandit was seen in the Obi Obi Creek, which wends its way through the lovely Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Maleny, Jo Turner’s and Neil Andison’s hometown. While the entire Sunshine Coast Regional Council accounts for well less than 0.1 per cent of Australia’s land area, it contains more than 10 per cent of the nation’s known plant species, more than 25 per cent of its known mammal species, and more than half of its known bird species.
Neil Andison has worked alongside Jo and seems to have a knack of spotting these elusive creatures, so much so that Maleny locals have dubbed him “the platypus whisperer”.
Neil routinely sees numbers of this shy monotreme on his walks and is always keen to share insights into these elusive mammals.
“One of the reasons I am so interested in platypus, is that this gives a good indication of the health and beauty of the creeks and river systems,” Neil said.
“People need to understand that these are rare and unique creatures that we have on our doorstep and instead of dropping that cigarette or piece of paper, people should put them into their pockets or throw them into the nearest bin. That’s my ethos. That’s what I do.”
Since her initial sighting, Bandit’s rubber band has dislodged and she is free to roam once more.
However, because platypus ferret around the bottoms of creeks looking for food, the consequences could have been dire had her rubber band been caught on a log or other debris.
Water pollution and climate change
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the amount of pollution – whether it be found on beaches or in waterways – only magnifies the effects of climate change. As air temperatures rise, so too will water temperatures, and they will do so even more rapidly in smaller bodies of water. This reduces the level of dissolved oxygen in the water, placing more stress on fish, insects, crustaceans and other aquatic animals, including platypus.
Visitors to Obi Obi Creek and its surrounds have the power to reduce pollution in and around waterways by remembering a useful saying: take only memories, leave only footprints.
Words: Debra Harrip
Images: Debra Harrip / The Argus; Neil Andison
Video: Debra Harrip
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The original version of this story is one of 30 in a special online Climate Change edition of The Argus that was compiled by Queensland College of Art students from a final-year course called Transmedia Storytelling.