Releasing Animals into Native Habitat

Releasing Animals into Native Habitat

Lyndall Pettet, University of Queensland

Releasing animals from a caring environment into native habitat and problems of native habitat destruction

Program structure

Being a Release Officer

  • Basic degree in an Environmental Science
  • 6 months in the field training

Health & Safety

  • Habitat ID and species relations training
  • Public relations
  • Member teaching skills

Release sites can be – private property, public land or members’ properties

  • But not all land is good habitat!!!
  • FACT: Rehabilitated animals cannot be released into Commonwealth or State Forests/National Parks.

Preparing an animal for release

  • Carers are taught natural food sourcing techniques
  • Educated on how to make their animals ‘wild’ and how to detach themselves
  • Given assistance if they find it all too difficult to do

The Steps to Release

  • Carers phone a release officer
  • Discuss the animal’s requirements
  • Habitat selection
  • Final examination of the animal
  • Release Day

A release officer’s role is to be able to determine what can be released and what cannot. The release officers follow euthanasia and release guidelines that have been established. These guidelines have set criteria that any animal must displace before a release is possible. The end result may be that the animal is euthanased or the animal is placed back into captivity for a period of time. Examples of the criteria are: the animal must be able to reproduce, have all physical senses and must not be diseased. They must be able to groom, eat and move.


This section will focus on permitted tree clearing, not illegal practices. Lyndal Pettet is an independent consultant who deals with issues involving habitat clearing. Requests for her services are issued through courts, councils and developers.


Environmental consultancy company – Developer – Site Operations Company – Clearing Contractor – Tree-clearing subcontractor – Fauna spotter/catcher

Current problems with habitat clearing practices

  • Environmental Act terminology – ‘habitat tree’
  • Broad acre machinery
  • Restoration practices – plant 25,000 trees to fix problem
  • Accountability by regulators – no checks made after initial clearing event
  • Restricting significance to EPBC Act fauna and flora
  • Spotter/catcher regulations & education
  • Management Plans
  • Federal or State infrastructure clearing goes ahead despite consequences
  • Fauna/flora assessments done 5 years prior to actual development processes beginning

There are many issues involved in the practice of habitat destruction, and it is a highly emotive issue. This session focuses on the collection and release of animals in habitat clearing and the current issues involved.

Broad Acre Compacter – the Tree Terminator

The mulcher has a rotating fixed-tooth cutter on the front of the machine that can be raised or lowered. The mulcher’s driver basically drives at the tree and the machine’s cutter knocks the tree over. The driver then runs over the downed tree and equipment on the bottom mulches the tree.

Russell Howard, Manager of Forestry Consultants, states that the mulcher saves time and manpower and is actually better for the environment than previous methods to clear an area. ‘It cuts trees to the ground so there are no piles, no burning and the mulch helps to prevent much soil erosion.’ Mr Howard stated that Forestry Consultants has already lined up new jobs because of the new mulcher’s quickness in finishing jobs and cost effectiveness.

Sandy Holifield, Economic Development Director for the Economic Development Authority of Jones County stated ‘For our benefit, he used our property to demonstrate it, it will knock down trees, chip and spread the mulch in a fraction of the time it would take before. This one here mowed down 3kms x 300m road clearing in 3 hours. But who hired the $10,000 a day machine – the environmentally friendly Noosa Shire Council. The development was a new road to their own council building.’

Spotter/catcher regulations

  • Demonstrate the ability to determine appropriate habitat through knowledge of fauna/flora associations & habitat requirements
  • Manipulation of their requirements
  • Developer controlled spotter/catchers
  • Tree lopping events – completely left out of any spotter/catcher requirements
  • Council
  • Sub contractors for councils, main roads
  • Energex

One of the major issues are tree loppers. Councils are notorious for not requiring a spotter/catcher and expecting a community group to go out and collect animals from sites. In addition, when comparing the likelihood of interacting with fauna on large acreage clearings and tree lopping jobs, the tree lopping jobs will always have a much higher encounter rate. This is due to the fact that many lopped trees are large, old and termite infected, threatening houses, humans, powerlines and roadways. The Maroochy Shire Council expects wildlife volunteers to go out and inspect this type of vegetation clearing, however, repeated statements of ‘no’ appear to fall on deaf ears. They appear to promote the situation as they state that ‘we provide you with funding through grants so we expect you to do your community service.’ In addition they claim that they are unable to emply a spotter/catcher as it is not budgeted for. Well – budget for it!

Sub contractors tendering for contracts are unable to fund a spotter/catchers as it is not a requirement, and there is a likelihood they will be outbid by competitors who do not employ subcontractors. However, most tree lopping companies would prefer a spotter/catcher to be employed.

This is an unacceptable situation as the trees that are usually lopped are old, hollowed stag trees requiring the use of chain saws.  Animals die very easily from the stress of chain saw activity as the vibration and noise can kill them.

How to make good of a bad thing

  • Directional clearing
  • Paying attention to the intra/interspecies relationships
  • Using systems like release programs to reduce relocation stress
  • Pre-planning restoration and implementing sustainable habitat before any clearing event
  • Educating the developers on fauna/flora relationships
  • Education on preventive measures & proper tree felling practices to developers, tree clearers
  • Native animal First Aid education to developers and tree clearers and the awareness of the need for veterinary care
  • Spotter/catcher qualification requirements and evidence of skills
  • Financial accountability for the injured or displaced fauna….% of development funds going back into repairing the damage done
  • Development of a regulated independent funds scheme to prevent manipulation of voluntary organizations and fairness for all organizations