Tasmanian Platypus Conservation Guidelines

Playtypus injured by discarded plastic ring

Playtypus injured by discarded plastic ring

copyright: Photo by Nick Gust

Platypuses are currently considered widespread and 'common' in Australia, however their abundance remains unknown in almost all natural water bodies. Many researchers consider platypuses as 'potentially vulnerable' due to their dependence on Australian fresh water systems that are increasingly under stress due to human disturbance. In Tasmania, platypuses are regularly killed by dogs and run over by vehicles, and many in the north of the state suffer from mucormycosis disease. They are also vulnerable to predation by cats and now foxes, entanglement in rubbish, and drowning in fishing nets and yabbie traps.

Tasmanian platypuses are increasingly vulnerable to the degradation of suitable water bodies from poor land management practices and water extraction for irrigation and domestic usage. Climate change may also accelerate habitat loss for platypuses and contribute to habitat degradation processes associated with poor land use practices.

Fundamentally platypuses require habitat that has:
  1. An abundant source of invertebrate prey
  2. Reasonable water quality
  3. Stable, vegetated banks for digging burrows and litter
  4. Sufficiently large areas (ideally kilometres) of continuous habitat along suitable waterways.
The following guidelines are recommended as practical management steps for Tasmania landowners whose rural properties border waterways. The suggested riparian zone guidelines in particular underpin sustainable farming practices and benefit farmers by moderating floods, reducing erosion and nutrient leaching, and have broad conservation benefits for other native wildlife.

Conserve riparian habitat

Stock damaged bank

Stock damaged bank

  • Conserve or restore native vegetation around creeks, waterholes and dams (riparian zones). This will directly benefit platypuses by 1. Stabilizing banks, 2. Improving water quality, and 3. Increasing food and habitat for its in-stream invertebrate prey. Healthy riparian zones with dense native trees, shrubs and grasses also provide key ecological benefits to support sustainable farming by moderating floods, reducing erosion and limiting nutrient leaching into waterways.
  • Fence off riparian zones to limit stock access to waterways. Unlimited stock access rapidly degrades banks and makes them unsuitable for burrowing. It also results in increased erosion and siltation and animal waste entering the waterways - all of which adversely affect invertebrates (platypus prey) and water quality.
  • Control soil erosion and manage grazing pressure particularly around waterways.
  • Native live vegetation and fallen wood within waterways is also important to platypuses as diverse habitat for its invertebrate prey. Don't be too tempted to remove timber from waterways, particularly in the north of Tasmania where it is also a key habitat requirement for giant freshwater lobsters.
  • Local Land Care groups, NRM staff and the web can all provide advice on the appropriate species to plant and how best to go about revegetating riparian zones.
  • NRM offices may also be able to advise whether funding is currently available to assist efforts to improve riparian zones along particular waterways.
  • Since individual platypuses often travel many kilometres along waterways each day foraging, it is important that habitat is conserved over large, continuous areas (tens of kilometres) within catchments.

Control pets

Platypus with an injured tail from dog attack

Platypus with an injured tail from dog attack

  • DOGS: Uncontrolled dogs kill Tasmanian platypuses. Dogs should be kept on a lead and controlled around water bodies. Dogs should be prevented from roaming near water bodies at night when platypuses are typically most active.
  • CATS: Cats can have a decimating effect on native wildlife, they kill and maim a wide variety of native species including platypuses. To control your cat and prevent it from killing wildlife, keep it inside at night, and fit it with a collar with bells.
  • Consider having your pet cat and/or dog desexed and microchipped for identification.
  • Take unwanted kittens or puppies to an animal shelter. Do not dump them in the bush or leave them to fend for themselves.
  • Feral cat control is important to maintaining native wildlife.

Reduce rubbish

  • Rubbish can compromise wildlife health, spoils human enjoyment of the environment and undermines Tasmania's claims as a "clean, green" environmentally aware state and tourist destination.
  • By cleaning up rubbish along waterways (or preventing it entering waterways) you can benefit platypuses rapidly and cheaply.
  • Discarded plastic or rubber rings, fishing line and other rubbish can often get caught around platypuses and cause them serious injuries and death.
  • Broken glass, barbed wire and other sharp objects in waterways can also injure foraging platypuses, and compromises human enjoyment of the environment.
  • New litter laws have commenced in Tasmania. New offences and penalties apply. Members of the public can now report littering that they have seen, especially littering associated with cars.
  • Reporting littering involves completing a littering report online or by filling out a printed form. The eye-witness report forms the basis for the EPA to act further ¯ to issue a written warning or an infringement notice or even prosecute the offenders.
  • Contact local councils to remove major items of rubbish such as fridges and car bodies illegally dumped in waterways.
  • For further suggestions on conservation guidelines for platypuses in urban areas see the Australian Platypus Conservancy website (www.platypus.asn.au/)

Preventing injury/illness

Rubbish in a river

Rubbish in a river

copyright: Photo DPIPWE

  • Keep chemicals and pesticides away from areas where platypus may live.
  • Avoid leaks of oil, diesel, fertilizers and pesticides - especially near waterways. This also prevents wastage and saves you money.
  • Quickly clean up leaks if they occur and prevent any runoff into waterways.
  • Apply pesticides only when its dry, to avoid rain washing it into waterways
  • Place appropriate grates or grills over water pump intakes, or pipes to avoid injuring or killing platypuses living in the waterway used for irrigation.

Responsible land modifications

  • Platypus will not swim through some culverts under roads, particularly if there is a sheer drop from the end of the culvert into the stream, or if the water flow through the culvert is uniform and fast. Instead they cross the road where they are vulnerable to being hit by vehicles.
  • If building new tracks or roads, build bridges over waterways rather than culverts.
  • If culverts are unavoidable, then make them as wide and low gradient as possible.
  • Avoid creating barriers to platypus movement along waterways, although they can bypass some obstacles by walking across land they are much more vulnerable to predators on land than they are in the water.
  • Platypus friendly dams or waterways can be created on private property if they are relatively shallow (less than 5m deep), contain wood and other submerged structures and are surrounded by abundant native vegetation and stable earth banks.
  • Willow trees are introduced and their dense regrowth and continuous root mats can choke small streams, remove foraging areas and prevent platypus burrowing.
  • In large rivers willows are often less problematic and can help stabilise banks.
  • When clearing willows, do so in a stages, while planting other native trees and shrubs to replace them along waterways.
  • When removing willows consider leaving the roots of adult trees in the ground to stabilise banks, but ensure they don't regrow.
  • Avoid major earthworks near waterways from November to April each year when adult female platypuses and their young will be in their breeding burrows.

Responsible angling

Platypus drowned in an illegal net

Platypus drowned in an illegal net

  • Gill nets and traps for catching freshwater crayfish or yabbies can drown platypuses and are illegal for use in all Tasmanian inland waters.
  • Fyke nets for capturing eels are legal in Tasmania, but only if the cod-end collection funnel is suspended above water, which allows captured platypuses to breathe.
  • Any platypuses captured accidentally with eels in fyke nets should be released as soon as possible. Do not handle captured platypuses since the males are venomous and capable of inflicting extremely painful wounds.
  • Illegal fishing nets and traps should be removed from the water and reported to Inland Fisheries.
  • Anglers should check current fishing regulations with Inland Fisheries (www.ifs.tas.gov.au) and are asked to report illegal fishing activities.
  • Contact 1300 INFISH during business hours, the Senior Inspector on mobile 0408 145 768 after hours, or email: infish@ifs.tas.gov.au
  • Helpful information to report includes: Time and date of activity, location, number of people involved, vehicle or boat registration, and the activity observed.

Common platypus misconceptions

  • Platypuses will not dig holes in dams and let the water out! They are cunning enough to only burrow in places that will not flood or turn their burrows into flowing channels.
  • Platypuses will not adversely affect other animals in farm dams by stirring up mud!
  • If anything their foraging probably helps oxygenate the benthos and prevent it becoming stagnant and anoxic.
  • Platypus cannot breath underwater, the bubbles that sometimes follow them underwater is squeezed from their fur as they dive, not exhaled air.
  • Platypuses can and do go cross-country seeking new waterways if their existing habitat dries up in summer. How far and how often they make big excursions across dry land is poorly understood; though on rare occasions they have been known to move around large waterfalls or cross kilometres of farmland.
  • Male platypuses are venomous and can inflict very painful wounds (see natural history section), so don't pick them up; they are less cuddly than they appear!

Platypus Conservation Brochure

Tasmanian Platypus Conservation Brochure (1.05 MB)