Wild enough for wee ones? – April 2017

28 Apri 2017

On 23 March Network Ten’s Totally Wild filmed another segment involving the work of WPSQ’s PlatypusWatch program, this time to give its young viewers an insight into the importance of eDNA surveying in the search for the elusive platypus. As informative and entertaining as nature shows are for our younger generation, however, can screen time ever be nature experience enough, especially for those living in urban areas? Thirteen-year-old science communicator Bridie Willaton helps us ponder.

Since its PlatyCount appeal in early 2016, Wildlife Queensland has been working to update the state’s knowledge of platypus distribution in Queensland’s south-east.

“In this second year of eDNA surveying, we’ve been following up on our 2016 results and focussing on the areas of interest they generated,” said WPSQ Projects Manager Matt Cecil.

“As it’s a fairly new sampling technology, it seems to be interesting to everybody. It’s exciting, and it seems to prick people’s ears up,” he said.

While there were unfortunately no cameo appearances by platypus on the day, there was much else to admire as ‘Ranger Stacey’ Thomson expertly gathered the facts from Matt, and her crew took footage above and below the waterline of a gently flowing creek in Brisbane’s west. Pausing now and then for distant traffic noise, Matt and Stacey explained to their young audience environmental DNA and the process of its aquatic sampling in the search for this elusive native icon.

Witnesses to the filming were Bridie Willaton and her mother Therese, in Brisbane to spend a day with Totally Wild as part of the Queensland Museum Natural Leaders first-prize package awarded to Bridie last year for her 2-minute film on her local biodiversity.

Watch Bridie’s award-winning short film!

A quietly spoken girl from the bush, Bridie shared how the city is like another world to her, just as her family’s property on the banks of Mungallala Creek in south-western Queensland is totally foreign to her cousins from inner-city Melbourne.

On her family’s property at Mitchell – where they don’t get Network Ten – Bridie’s experience of nature is a daily occurrence. Kangaroos bound down in the beautiful sandy-bottomed creek, 75 different bird species can be spotted, lace monitors and gliders get around, and one must take care not to step on an echidna by night.

But what about the ‘city kids’ for whom this wild world is not a way of life? Bridie says her cousins from Melbourne loved their first visit to the farm – seeing a carpet snake and riding motorbikes through the bush may have had something to do with it – and even refused to eat meat for a good couple of months after that.

A classic 1998 study out of Yale University remains the most comprehensive research to date to examine the effects on teenage youth’s participation in outdoor activities, specifically wilderness-based education programs. The results indicate that the majority of respondents found this nature experience to be “one of the best in their life”, reporting positive effects on their personal, intellectual and, in some cases, spiritual development.

Queensland Museum Senior Curator of Vertebrates, Dr Steve Van Dyck, describes the contact and fascination with wildlife that was such an influential part of his childhood:

“We lived right on the edge of sandstone gullies and banksia thickets and water holes,” Steve told Richard Fidler on ABC radio. He recalls fondly how, after school, he would be out in the bush “collecting birds’ eggs and nests and chasing possums out of trees.”

“I’m sure this was set into me then…that if there’s some way of preserving animals then I’d like to go about it at some stage later in life.”

Among his many other achievements, Dr Van Dyke was instrumental in the rediscovery of the endangered mahogany glider in 1989.

So how do we extend this life-changing gift of nature contact to our youngest community members? Shows like Totally Wild go such a long way to educating and raising kids’ awareness, and a new study from BBC Earth and the University of California has revealed that watching nature documentaries can actually cause viewers to experience positive emotions and reduced feelings of stress – particularly younger viewers. But is there anything like first-hand experience with wildlife to help us appreciate our natural treasures and reassess our priorities? Wildlife Queensland believes not, and encourages our supporters to grab a young hand and get out there!

No excuses for the ‘city kids’:


Stay tuned for our PlatypusWatch segment coming soon to Network Ten’s Totally Wild!

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