Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Australia Idle Science

Aussies Could Use Elephants To Fight Invasive Species 274

Posted by samzenpus
from the we're-gonna-need-bigger-needle-snakes dept.
A type of invasive African grass is a major cause of wildfires in Australia. The giant gamba grass is too large for cattle and the native marsupial grazers to eat, but David Bowman, a professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania has a plan. He says that elephants or rhinoceroses could eat the pest grass. "... the only other methods likely to control gamba grass involve using chemicals or physically clearing the land, which would destroy the habitat. Using mega-herbivores may ultimately be more practical and cost-effective, and it would help to conserve animals that are threatened by poaching in their native environments," he said. This plan makes you wonder just how big a Chinese needle snake can grow.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Aussies Could Use Elephants To Fight Invasive Species

Comments Filter:
  • by Megane (129182) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @07:48AM (#38901157) Homepage
    ...the Elephants simply starve to death.
    • What winter? :p

    • by Hentes (2461350) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:06AM (#38901243)

      You mean summer?

    • by Bill Currie (487) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:14AM (#38901269) Homepage

      Australia has two seasons: summer (August, though for some strange reason, Australians insist on calling it winter) and "I'd rather be in hell" (the rest of the year). Except in Melbourne: all four seasons in one day.

      • by MrKaos (858439) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:21AM (#38901551) Journal

        Sydney has a freezing winter rain in summer and the air turns into a wall of white water. You get just as wet from the rain as you do from the humidity. The only difference is if you have your sunnies on or not.

        Then someone turns the weather switch and while that toggle switch goes from winter to summer or visa versa the day will be maybe hot maybe dry maybe rain maybe cold, the only difference is it will be that way all day after you've left for work you either carry your jacket and wear your sunnies or you wear your sunnies and carry your jacket. But don't dare open an umbrella or the wind will rip it to pieces or sudden lightning reduce it a hole in the ground with some molten metal and the remains of one of your shoes. Deodourant companies are listed on the commodities market.

        Then winter is so dry that your lips skin and hands dry and crack and you suddenly get two days of summer in winter.

        Except when it's the other way around and it pours the freezing winter rain in winter and summer is so dry that everything everywhere is so flammable that if the reflection of your sunglasses hits the ground at the wrong angle the whole place goes up in flames.

        The fire warning signs read something like (This is not a joke) Normal, High, Dangerous, Extremely dangerous, catastrophic. I almost feel it is appropriate to have them add "We're all gonna die" or "save the children" in case some people don't understand the point.

        Other than that the weather here is wonderful, I'm sure the elephants will have a great time.

    • by vgerclover (1186893) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:29AM (#38901627)
      Skinner: Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
      Lisa: But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?
      Skinner: No problem. We simply release wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.
      Lisa: But aren't the snakes even worse?
      Skinner: Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
      Lisa: But then we're stuck with gorillas!
      Skinner: No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

      http://www.snpp.com/episodes/5F22 [snpp.com] Bart the mother
    • by petermgreen (876956) <plugwash@@@p10link...net> on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:34AM (#38901655) Homepage

      Seriously though megafauna are relatively easy to control because they breed slowly and can't really hide. It's the small animals you have to worry about.

      • by Dexter Herbivore (1322345) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:01PM (#38902997) Journal

        Seriously though megafauna are relatively easy to control because they breed slowly and can't really hide. It's the small animals you have to worry about.

        You've obviously never stared down a charging bull elephant. (Not that I have, but it haunts my nightmares and I'm an Australian).

      • by toygeek (473120)

        This in a country that has actually had Land Sharks.

      • by plopez (54068)

        NOW there' slow breeding mega-fauna. But evolution is a funny thing. In a new environment something could change all that....

    • SKINNER
      Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.

      LISA
      But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?

      SKINNER
      No problem. We simply unleash wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.

      LISA
      But aren't the snakes even worse?

      SKINNER
      Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.

      LISA
      But then we're stuck with gorillas!

      SKINNER
      No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas si

  • End game (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sakdoctor (1087155) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @07:48AM (#38901161) Homepage

    But who will eat the elephants when they become invasive?

    • Re:End game (Score:5, Insightful)

      by el3mentary (1349033) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @07:52AM (#38901179)

      Elephants breed so slowly their numbers would be incredibly easy to control

      • Re:End game (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Chatsubo (807023) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:15AM (#38901277)

        Well the horrible truth is they'll get poached out much quicker than they can breed. Keeping something like a rhino alive in such close proximity to the east might be a challenge that outweighs the benefits.

        • Re:End game (Score:5, Interesting)

          by admiralranga (2007120) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:06AM (#38901487)
          Getting a license for something that can kill an elephant in aus, you make me laugh.
          • Re:End game (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Chatsubo (807023) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:26AM (#38901597)

            Poachers who care about licenses, you make me laugh.

            I live in Africa, putting a rhino on a piece of land almost transforms it into a war zone. International trade in ivory/rhino horn is a big deal, no mere legal red tape is going to stop these guys. Neither do they mind much if they have to shoot some rangers to get to the animals, and so the arms escalation begins...

            • Re:End game (Score:5, Informative)

              by wisty (1335733) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:48AM (#38901735)

              In Australia, the police and customs are much more effective. It's also really hard to get assault guns, so gangs tend to be massively outgunned by the authorities. We had some locally made "Owen Guns" (WWII carbines) getting made in an illegal factory in 2004; that's how starved our gangs are for hardware. Even the "good" African countries will have trouble, because gangs will be able to smuggle guns and ivory across land boarders to and from the "bad" countries.

          • by quenda (644621)

            Getting a license for something that can kill an elephant in aus, you make me laugh.

            She'll be right mate. Professional hunters can use semi-automatics. It is only machine guns and rocket launchers that are illegal.

      • Re:End game (Score:5, Informative)

        by Inda (580031) <slash.20.inda@spamgourmet.com> on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:58AM (#38901455) Journal
        I know this thread has been about giggles but one thing seems to have been missed.

        Its been proposed that the elephants are sterilised first.
      • Re:End game (Score:5, Informative)

        by agentgonzo (1026204) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:20AM (#38901545)
        +5 insightful? Funny I could understand.

        Kruger park has a massive over-population of elephants. It has a carrying-capacity (the number that the land-mass can sustainably support without being detrimental to the ecosystem) of about 8,000 elephants and now has over 20,000 (and still rising) causing major problem (both ecologically and politically as to how to reduce the numbers without resulting to a mass-cull).

        Contraception is not exactly feasible on a large-scale (it's been tried successfully on small reserves such as Makalali) but the problem of finding and contracepting all/most of the animals in the wild and making sure that you've not contracepted the same animal twice in one period (major health issues for the animal) is almost impossible.
    • Re:End game (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kjella (173770) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @07:56AM (#38901191) Homepage

      Eat them, I don't know... but hunt them to extinction should be no problem at all, they're not exactly small and hard to spot. The more problematic bits would be if they've brought microbes with them, upset the balance of nature some other way etc. - it's a gamble with very many variables...

      • by captainpanic (1173915) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:09AM (#38901249)

        [...]they're not exactly small and hard to spot. [...]

        If they wear red socks, and hide in a strawberry patch, they're quite hard to spot!

      • upset the balance of nature some other way etc. - it's a gamble with very many variables...

        The normal way that they upset the balance of nature is trampling lots of the ecosystem and eating so much of everything that it wipes out food/habitat for pretty much everything. If left to grow beyond a small number, they are detrimental to the ecosystem. And that's in areas where they are native. It could probably rid Australia of the acacias though (they love them)

    • Re:End game (Score:5, Funny)

      by deniable (76198) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @07:57AM (#38901193)
      Cane toads.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But who will eat the elephants when they become invasive?

      They plan to sterilize the beasts, and track them with GPS.

      Plan B involves reintroducing the T Rex, as seen on the documentary Jurassic Park.

    • by jamesh (87723)

      But who will eat the elephants when they become invasive?

      I'm more worried about what they'll decide to eat instead of the gamba grass. What if they develop a taste for kangaroos... or kittens?

      • Kittens are an invasive species that need to be eaten.

        Seriously- cats have caused mega-damage in Australia wiping out many species of ground birds. If the elephants eat the cats (not native to Australia) it can only be a good thing.

        Although- if the elephants eat the cats- the invasive species "mice/rats" will scare the elephants into the ocean to swim back to Africa/Asia- which will allow the cat population to boom again.

    • New menu at Outback restaurants?
  • by SQL Error (16383) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @07:48AM (#38901163)

    Perhaps we'll die...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 02, 2012 @07:54AM (#38901183)

    So there was this fence that was supposed to prevent the plague of rabbits from crossing the country. I don't think it worked. I'm having this vision of a future with an Elephant proof fence. Somehow the idea appeals.

    • Myxomatosis did the job very well though.
      • No it didn't.

        • by jamesh (87723)

          Yes it did. It didn't do the job perfectly, but the rabbit population has never returned to what it was pre-myxomatosis.

        • by norpy (1277318)

          Yes it did, it just didn't do it completely - and the remaining population has now been selected for resistance.

          It's the exact same problem we have with antibiotics

          • by MrKaos (858439)

            Yes it did, it just didn't do it completely - and the remaining population has now been selected for resistance.

            It's the exact same problem we have with antibiotics

            Yeah, but at least the aboriginals finally thought the white man did something right for a change. Now foxes,,,,,,uuurrh foxes

  • Alternatives? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by flyneye (84093)

    How about cutting and baling the grass? Process it for feed or fuel. Use it in lieu of paper in insulating concrete.Maybe the Aborigines can find a use for it. Once you've mown it and can access the roots, THEN whip out a jug of Roundup. What really is the problem here? Lack of imagination? Will it distill into alcohol with a bit of sugar? Is there an industrial furnace powering anything anywhere near? Are we really scared of the mean ol zombie grass slowly moving this way? I think someone just wants to be

    • Re:Alternatives? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by robbak (775424) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:17AM (#38901283) Homepage

      You've obviously never been to australia. Hint - it's very big.

      • by JTsyo (1338447)
        well it is a continent.
    • by Talderas (1212466)

      I am intrigued by your concept of zombie grass. Please write up a report on it and submit it to my desk before 3pm so that I may review it for further defense funding.

    • What really is the problem here?

      Scale.

  • by Zemran (3101) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:00AM (#38901211) Homepage Journal

    yes rabbits would be a good idea. They are smaller and cuter than elephants and they eat grass as well...

  • by sirdude (578412) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:04AM (#38901231)

    Gamba grass first appeared under cultivation in Queensland in 1942 and trials and plantings in the Northern Territory occurred as early as 1931. It was bred as an improved pasture species and sold by seed merchants. Gamba grass has adapted extremely well to the seasonal droughts, fires and low-nutrient soils of Australia’s savannas.

    From here [qld.gov.au] [PDF].

  • by Phoenix (2762) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:04AM (#38901235)

    The elephants can be used to stomp on the caine toads.

    • by sirdude (578412) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:43AM (#38901393)
      One stomp too many and those Caines will surely turn mutinous.
    • Don't do that! In Australia, the Caine Toads are sacred. Australians believe that when you die, you get reborn as an Amphibian.

      If you look at some of the Google Street View photos, you can see Aussie kids picking up toads like a phone and licking them. It's actually a pretty handy way to ask your great-grandmother for her special Pavlova cake recipe, just before the guests arrive for the BBQ.

  • by RogueyWon (735973) * on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:21AM (#38901293) Journal

    I thought the whole "Got a problem with invasive species x? Import invasive species y!" schtick had gone wrong so many times over the years that there would be more caution about it now.

    What are they going to import in 30 years time to deal with the plague of elephants? My vote's for genetically modified, cybernetically enhanced fire-breating giant battle-centipedes. What could possibly go wrong?

    Or maybe the attraction is that elephants can actually be extremely dangerous to humans [wikipedia.org]. Australia just doesn't have enough animals like that, right?

    • by Kierthos (225954) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:34AM (#38901349) Homepage

      Let's see. The gestation period of an elephant is 21-23 months. The interval between calves is as much as five years. And female elephants generally don't even begin reproducing until they are 12-14 years old.

      I somehow doubt there will be a plague of elephants. What I imagine would happen is a lot of poached elephants.

    • What are they going to import? 50 cal hunting rifles.

      There's a reason why Elephants are a endangered species in Africa - they don't breed very quickly. If you allow the locals to keep the tusks (ie no imports or exports), I imagine they'd be wiped out pretty quickly.

      • No, the reason that they're endangered is because they have ivory and got hunted to the brink of extinction. That combined with the fact that they are pushed away from human habitation so areas they can live are being reduced.
  • Rather then fill the outback with yet another untested and likely useless species. Why don't they just put more people out there?

    Build a few more cities or towns... expand... tame the wilderness. If people actually live out there then any undesired species isn't going to last very long.

    • by JasterBobaMereel (1102861) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:56AM (#38901447)

      Have you been to Australia?

      The majority of people live in big sprawling cities by the coast, for the reason that the rest of the country is an arid desert ...

      Any city built inland would run out of water very quickly .... Imagine Las Vegas, but without a water supply ...

      • I'm well aware of it's serious water issues... there are ways to get more water. It's a big topic but suffice to say there are a lot of options.

    • by MrKaos (858439)

      Rather then fill the outback with yet another untested and likely useless species. Why don't they just put more people out there?

      Build a few more cities or towns... expand... tame the wilderness. If people actually live out there then any undesired species isn't going to last very long.

      And during the day people can go to the petrol station and see if any of the numbers have changed...

  • ...I'm sure that gamba grass itself seemed harmless too when it was introduced to Australia as a pasture grass. Then there were Cane Toads, (also in Australia), Kudzu, and countless other examples.

    Given man's mobility and restlessness such occurrences are probably inevitable. At least this time the assertion that "this introduction could solve that problem" was accompanied by a note that careful monitoring would be required. So there's some effort being made to anticipate and mitigate the potential negative

  • I mean, Elephants are f***ing awesome and all, big, giant things that knock over trees when they get mad, but goats are well proven to eat grass and other things (like briers) that most animals won't touch. They handle dry, arid climates well, and provide other useful things like, Milk, Cheese, Meat, and Pelts. If you pick angora goats you get fancy wool from them as well.

    Granted, you don't have the cool factor of big-ass elephants running around loose Down Under, but goats reproduce a lot faster an

    • The thing Australia is lacking that goats need is water ...

      The Elephants are few enough in number that it can be supplied, and they can be managed to only eat the invasive species, goats eat everything ...

      • by Hadlock (143607)

        How do you train a 12 ton animal to only eat what you want it to?
         
        Waiting for some really good ex-wife jokes, slashdot, please don't dissapoint

    • by pehrs (690959)

      ...I hope you are joking.

      Feral goats are a serious problem in Australia, along with so many other invasive animals and plants.

      A better link to look at would be this one:

      http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/invasive/ferals/index.html [environment.gov.au]

    • Re:Uhh, goats? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Alicat1194 (970019) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:24AM (#38901585)

      I mean, Elephants are f***ing awesome and all, big, giant things that knock over trees when they get mad, but goats are well proven to eat grass and other things (like briers) that most animals won't touch. They handle dry, arid climates well, and provide other useful things like, Milk, Cheese, Meat, and Pelts. If you pick angora goats you get fancy wool from them as well.

      Been there, done that they went feral : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feral_goats_in_Australia [wikipedia.org]. Though some farmers to make a fair living off mustering the ferals and then selling them for pelts and meat.

      • by Hadlock (143607)

        Well if Goats were already a disaster, why do they think Elephants would be any better?

    • "and (I'm pretty sure) eat a higher percentage of their body weight in plant matter than elephants do"

      Adult male elephant weighs 7 tons and eats 300kg of food per day (4.3%) Goat eats 4.5% of its bodyweight (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_percent_of_body_weight_does_a_goat_eat_in_grass_per_day)
  • what could possibly go wrong with introducing a new animal species into a habitat it doesn't belong. I mean look how well the plants did when put there.
  • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @12:01PM (#38902991)

    As pointed out- elephants numbers are easily controlled due to their size. I would like to suggest we one up the elephant suggestion- and go for an even bigger animal- I would suggest the blue whale.

    Yes, I know- technically the blue whale is an aquatic animal- but they can breath air. We could create artificial limbs for them- attack fake legs to their flippers and their tails to allow them to walk on land.

    Since any young born would not be able to move- (hence eat), without human intervention, you wouldn't have to worry about their numbers exploding out of control.

    To me- this seems a near perfect solution. The only problem is that whales don't eat grass- but that's only a minor technicality- and you have to admit whales with artificial tripod limbs crossing the desert of Australia is a site worth one or two minor technical glitches.

We are experiencing system trouble -- do not adjust your terminal.

Working...