Opera House traps are still causing the drowning death of platypus and water rats in creeks and waterways across the country. Does current legislation governing the use of opera house traps have any impact or is it too confusing? Are the traps too affordable and freely available to purchase? Is the wider community really aware of the problems associated with using these traps?
Platypuses continue to drown in Opera House traps illegally set in Queensland’s creeks and waterways despite the existence of laws that prohibit their use. Sadly, our state is not alone and this terrible situation is being repeated across New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria where similar, if not stronger legislation prohibiting their use, is in place. And the drowning deaths they cause are not restricted to the platypus; native water rats and turtles also continue to fall victim to Opera House traps.
Recently, three water rats were found drowned in an Opera House trap in Orange, New South Wales and six platypuses have died in illegal Opera House traps set in Victorian waters this year alone. Wildlife Queensland is also aware of the drowning deaths of another platypus and water rat last year in the Brisbane region. These are just the cases that have come to our attention.
In Queensland, use of the traps is not prohibited in dams on private land and they are therefore freely available to purchase in outdoor recreation stores. Queensland legislation introduced in February 2015, prohibits the use of certain Opera House trap designs in public waterways east of a line following the Gore Highway. An excerpt from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries website best explains:
…the use of certain funnel and round traps east of a line following the Great Dividing Range and the Gore Highway (Highway 39) is prohibited outside of 44 listed impoundments.
This means that:
- Funnel traps and round traps with a rigid opening size of up to 5cm maximum in all its dimensions can be used in all Queensland non-tidal waters
- Funnel traps and round traps with a rigid opening size between 5cm and 10cm can only be used in listed impoundments east of a line following the Great Dividing Range and east of the Gore Highway (A39) or in non-tidal waters west of the aforementioned boundary.
So while the use of Opera House Traps has been legislatively greatly restricted, the specific laws are somewhat complicated and no doubt difficult to communicate to a customer when purchasing a trap. Further, the ability to purchase an Opera House trap is as simple as ever.
In August the Australian Platypus Conservancy (APC) adopted a sudden shift in policy towards the use of Opera House traps. The organisation has, in the past, advocated for a modification in the design of these traps to allow the escape of air breathing animals. From this, a trap with an escape hatch was designed, tested and shown to provide trapped platypus a method to escape.
Disappointingly, in early 2016 the APC encountered road blocks thwarting the roll out of the modified Opera House trap (https://platypus.asn.au/ for more information), resulting in the continued drowning death of platypuses and other native air breathing wildlife. Due to these roadblocks, APC’s policy is a total ban on the sale, possession and use of Opera House traps.
The Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland supports the APC in this policy shift towards a total ban of Opera House traps. Platypus in Queensland need all the help and support they can get; removing these death traps from society would have a major positive impact on the conservation of the species.
If this wildlife issue strikes a chord with you, please keep an eye out in your local streams and waterways for signs of the illegal use of these harmful traps. You’ll see a thin rope attached to the bank (to a tree, rock, shrub, etc) and perhaps also a float in the water. If so, please contact your local council who will send an environment representative to follow it up. Your intervention could prevent the death by drowning of a platypus, water rat or turtle, and would be of great interest to Wildlife Queensland if you’d be happy to share your story.