Are we losing potential zoologists because of our laws?

DCF 1.0

When I was young I spent a lot of non-school time looking in dams and creeks for tadpoles, frogs and fish, or in the bush looking for small snakes and lizards. I kept tadpoles, frogs, lizards and fish in appropriate containers and was fascinated by these animals.

I’m pretty sure that it was this early fascination with native fauna that has sustained my lifelong interest in Australian animals. I have bred fish for the last 50 years, and native fish for the last 35 years, kept lizards and snakes and often had tadpoles and frogs in outside ponds. I had a major career change at about 40 years old and embarked on postgraduate study in zoology; an interest that I had never really abandoned since my childhood.

However, most of these activities that I under took in years past are now illegal under the Wildlife Conservation Act and if you are caught with native fauna, then there is likely to be a court process and a fine if convicted. Are our laws impeding the development of passionate young zoologists that we will desperately need in the near future to protect and conserve our diminishing native fauna because of vegetation clearing, industry development and climate change? And even if they never become zoologists, it would be good to know that they are onside in our battle to conserve our native fauna.

Between 2008 and 2010 I worked on a project where there was a very high density of small mammals and reptiles. We only trapped a very small portion of the area but caught more than 5,300 animals from 78 species in 45,000 trap-nights. This entire development area has now been largely cleared and many thousands of reptiles and mammals would have been injured and subsequently died or were killed in the vegetation clearing process. Although their imminent fate was certain, it was illegal to catch and keep any of these animals, or to catch and relocate these animals without an appropriate licence. This same situation has been repeated many times each year for decades. Our current wildlife licensing system and laws seems to focus resources on checking on people who catch and keep native fauna and prosecuting those that catch or illegally keep a few reptiles. Think of the time spent by government staff during an investigation, in preparing charges and court proceeding, court time, etc, often for a single or few illegally taken and held reptiles when the government frequently approves of projects that result in the death of thousands of these animals. Surely resources could be much better spent in putting in place initiatives to conserve threatened species.

In this context, some of our current laws don’t seem to make sense, for example, see the Tadpole Exchange program run by the WA Gould League. The Tadpole Exchange program was previously conducted by the WA Museum as a method of having more ‘frog ponds’ in peoples’ back yards. It is illegal to catch and take frogs or tadpoles from the wild without a licence, which for a child or a teenager is beyond reasonable expectations, yet we have in place a government sanctioned program that does pretty much the same thing.

Many parents who noticed their child’s or teenager’s fascination with birds and animals use to direct them toward one of the many clubs and organisations that supported these activities (e.g. Gould League, Naturalist Club, etc). But, given the limited capacity for that interest to develop and be nurtured by the early field investigations and catching of animals, I suspect many budding zoologists will find an alternative interest before it is developed. From my reading of the new WA Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2015, it does nothing to address this situation other than to increase penalties for the illegal taking and holding of native fauna.

Perhaps it is time to rethink what we are doing, rethink some of our current wildlife laws, redeploy some of the government funding and encourage more young people to develop a life-long sustained interest in native fauna.

Dr Graham Thompson


Images – top: Limnodynastes dorsalis – Western banjo frog; bottom: Litoria adelaidensis – Slender tree frog

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


8 Responses to “Are we losing potential zoologists because of our laws?”

  1. jake on July 13th, 2016 10:15 am

    Interesting article! The NSW proposed biodiversity reforms actually appears to wind back some of the licencing requirements and allow low-risk activity with wildlife.

  2. Katarina Stenman on July 13th, 2016 11:48 am

    Agree 100%

  3. kaj-erik bulliard on July 13th, 2016 5:10 pm

    im a dedicated amature herp in wa for over 20 from Sydney.i actively pursue my field photography and observations all over the the state of obsessed as you might expect but I don’t talk to wa herps for fear of being dobbed quite amature herps have so much to offer but sadly dec keeps us from communicating info on many local extintions of reptiles.if only we shared our knowledge we might make a big difference.the scapr stimsons python is currently in a critical state and I now only know of one last population.very sad indeed.regards kaj-erik

  4. Linda Kemp on July 13th, 2016 8:27 pm

    Interesting reading – but suspect there is another reason. Mobile phones and computers. Kids used to be allowed out on their own and encouraged to explore – but now there is worry about safety and kids have electronics to play with instead of going out with friends and learning about nature and exploring the world they live in. Very very sad 🙁

  5. Zdenek Faltynek Fric on July 13th, 2016 10:23 pm

    This paper is speaking directly from my heart! Even when I am from a country where we need permits for only portion of our fauna, the needs for permits harras anybody who wish to study it, but it will never stop any species from extinction. It will only stop us from getting the knowledge. So every government should be happy as they can build anything anywhere and nobody will protest that it is the last place for species XYZ on the Earth!

  6. Giorgi on July 14th, 2016 12:24 am

    Are those laws really enforced? like if a child collects tadpoles, will he be fined?

  7. Mark Miller on July 14th, 2016 6:35 am

    I’m an American that attended the 2nd World Congress of Herpetology at the University of Adelaide and was surprised that the officials detained meeting delegates to search us after an educational/academic symposia that had no live reptiles. I can imagine how much worse it is for field researchers now.

  8. Dave Kabay on July 20th, 2016 4:18 pm

    I am one who never says die. I believe that the following forms could be used by grandfathers to allow their grandchildren to catch and keep Taddies and so become famous zoologist! I list links to the appropriate DPaW application forms. Though the only age limit I can see in the forms is keeping them (>14 years) though the others ask you for proof of age with out setting a minimum. It may be that Poppa may have to put some of the forms in his name and get his feet wet while he takes Frazer and Milan down to the local man made wetland . I am in the process of filling out the forms and sending them off for them What to do and not to do with frogs by future Zoologists to encourage them Application to catch the Tad poles to encourage future Zoologists Application to keep tadpoles that are caught to encourage future Zoologists Application to keep tadpoles Min age 14 years old to encourage future Zoologists with no experience. annual returns on what tadpoles you have kept to encourage you to be a future Zoologists


Got something to say?