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Animal Ethics Infolink
A NSW Department of Primary Industries and Animal Research Review Panel initiative

Wildlife surveys

Animal Research Review Panel Guideline 10
Revised:  January 2020

These guidelines have been written to provide guidance for members of Animal Ethics Committees (AECs) and investigators who carry out wildlife surveys, including those for Species Impact Statements or Environmental Impact Statements required under environmental protection legislation (Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995).

There are no general texts that describe the ethical capture and handling of all Australian wildlife in the field, although some have been published overseas (see Section 12). There is detailed recent Australian information on the capture, handling and care of native mammals in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC 2014) A Guide to the care and use of Australian native mammals in research and teaching and this should be used as a primary reference for this group. More general guidance for all animals is available in NHMRC (2013) Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, hereafter referred to as the Code. Information on first aid for injured wildlife can be found in Walraven (1990).

These guidelines are not meant to be exhaustive or prescriptive. Their aim is to provide some general principles for reducing the impact on wildlife during surveys, to promote good practice and to raise issues that AECs need to consider when discussing such proposals. The information they contain is taken from the scientific literature and from animal care statements provided by wildlife surveyors.

1 Definitions

Animal Ethics Committee - A committee constituted in accordance with the terms of reference and membership laid down by the Animal Research Act 1985 and the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes (NHMRC).

Anabat ™ detector - An electronic device designed to record the echolocation calls of bats (that are usually beyond human hearing) and analyse the characteristic calls of specific species. There are some limitations to this equipment such as inability to distinguish all species. For example it will not detect flying-foxes as they do not use echolocation. Direct observation can be used for these species.

Box trap - A box made from sheet metal with an open door that is released and closes when an animal interferes with the bait in the trap. Sizes vary from quite small (for catching mice) to traps large enough to bandicoots. Because the most commonly used brand is Elliott, these are often referred to as Elliott traps.

Cage trap - Similar to a box trap except that the trap is made from steel mesh. Sizes vary from quite small (for catching mice) to traps large enough to trap dogs. The most commonly used size is 60 x 30 x 30 cm.

Camera trap - A remotely activated camera that is equipped with a motion sensor or an infrared sensor, or uses a light beam as a trigger.

Direct observation - Standing and watching, or walking in a particular direction for certain lengths of time, using binoculars or a spotting scope to detect the range and number of birds or large mammals.

Elliott trap - See box trap.

Fyke net - A net constructed of hoops decreasing in size with webbing between to form a cone shape and one or more funnels inside that prevent trapped fish from swimming out (ie a 'hoop net'), and which also has wings of one or two pieces of netting at the first hoop which are anchored into position with poles. These wings guide the fish into the net. Also known as wing, frame, trap or hoop nets. When used in waterways with platypus, the end of the net must be elevated above water height so that any trapped platypus or turtles do not drown.

Gill net - A net of diamond shaped mesh that is set vertically. The fish are unable to back out because their gill covers get caught in the mesh. When used in waterways with platypus the bottom of the net must be only lighted weighted so the platypus can swim to the surface if caught.

Hair tubes - Small PVC tubes lined with double sided sticky tape with an internal compartment where bait is placed. They may be more efficient and cost effective than the other methods for some rare or trap shy mammals.

Harp trap - An array of thin nylon fishing lines tensioned between two horizontal poles with an escape-proof hessian pocket located below. Bats fly into the lines, fall down undamaged into the pocket and crawl up to roost under a hessian flap where they can roost until released.

Hoop net - See fyke net.

Mist net - Large very fine nylon nets that are strung across potential flyways close to the ground between the vegetation in order to catch birds or bats that fly into them and become entangled. It is very easy for both birds and bats to injure themselves or become distressed whilst being disentangled from these nets so great care is needed.

Playback calls - Pre-recordings of the calls of nocturnal birds (such as owls), frogs and arboreal mammals (such as the koala) which are then played back at night in order to elicit a response from any member of the target species present which may be a reply (or call back) or an approach. They are usually broadcast at various locations over a specified duration (e.g. 10 minutes initial listening, 15 minutes playing of the recording and 10 minutes listening for a response).

Pitfall trap - A glass, metal or plastic container sunk into the ground so that the mouth is level with the soil surface. Ground dwelling animals fall into the trap and are unable to escape.

Proposal - A written outline of a project put forward for consideration by an AEC.

Spider tubes - Small PVC tubes installed into the ground, covered by a metal or canvas roof. Tubes are checked for sheltering individuals which can be captured by hand for identification.

Trip line - A single nylon line stretched 1.5-3cm above the surface of a body of water where bats are likely to fly, causing bats in flight to fall into the water and swim out where they are captured. These have much greater potential for damage to the animal than harp traps.

Voucher specimen - Any specimen that serves as a basis of study and is retained as a reference. A “type” specimen is a particular voucher specimen that serves as a basis for taxonomic description of that subspecies.

Wildlife - Free-living vertebrates of native, non-indigenous and feral species including captive bred animals and those captured from free-living populations.

2 The Regulation of Animal Care during Wildlife Surveys in NSW

In NSW, the welfare of animals used for animal research is protected by the Animal Research Act 1985. Wildlife surveys are considered as animal research and are therefore subject to the provisions of this legislation. The legislation also requires that the conduct of animal research must be consistent with the provisions of the Code.

Wildlife surveyors and AEC members should be conversant with the animal research legislation and the Code, and particularly Clauses 3.3.33 to 3.3.47 of the Code relating to wildlife and field techniques.

In addition to the legislation and the Code, the Animal Research Review Panel (the Panel) has a number of policies and guidelines relevant to wildlife surveys that should be consulted (see Section 13.0). Investigators should be familiar with the contents of all these documents. Along with general information on the legislation, AECs, the Panel and the Code, the policies and guidelines are available on the Animal Ethics Infolink site.

The intent of the legislation is to protect the welfare of animals and is implemented through the requirement that all animal research must be approved by an AEC before the work commences. The AEC considers the ethical aspects of the study such as the justification for the survey, the methods used and the impact of all procedures on the animals. To assist the AEC in its deliberations, application is made by the investigator on a proposal form that aims to ensure that AEC members have the information they need for their discussions, written in plain English.

Intending wildlife surveyors associated with an Accredited Animal Research Establishment should seek approval from the establishment’s AEC. Those not associated with an Accredited Establishment may apply to the Secretary’s AEC through the Department of Primary Industries. If the AEC approves the application, the investigator will be issued with an Animal Research Authority for the project.

A Biodiversity Conservation Licence (also referred to as a Scientific Class Licence) issued under Part 2, Division 3, of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 to conduct research is also required from the Office of Environment and Heritage to conduct wildlife surveys in NSW. This licence requires a current Animal Research Authority.

3 General ethical considerations and wildlife surveys

The Code advances three fundamental concepts for improving the welfare of animals used for scientific research. These are known as the Three Rs and include:

  • the replacement of animals with other methods;
  • the reduction of the number of animals used; and
  • the refinement of the techniques used to reduce the impact on animals.

The Three Rs are as relevant to wildlife surveys as to laboratory studies of animals, and in this section examples of their implementation through good survey planning and design and appropriate methodology are discussed. Specific wildlife survey methods are discussed in later sections.

  1. Survey planning

    Replacement of animals may be possible by assessing the existing recent knowledge of the fauna in the proposed study area and determine if a new survey is both necessary and justified. Sources of such information include:

    • published records in scientific journals and the newsletters of scientific and natural history societies. If a survey has been done many years ago in the same area a current survey is probably warranted to allow an assessment of possible changes in species abundance;
    • biodiversity survey reports by the Office of Environment and Heritage, including NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Forestry Corporation of NSW;
    • the Atlas of NSW Wildlife - a whole-of-government system for flora and fauna sightings information;
    • Birdlife Australia The New Atlas of Australian Birds (Barrett et al. 2004);
    • Atlas of Living Australia;
    • previous Species Impact Statements and Environmental Impact Statements available from the Department of Planning and Environment; and
    • local knowledge (local councils, land management groups, land holders).

    Historical records may not be useful in determining current species presence or abundance as these may have changed over time, often due to threatening processes. In cases such as these surveys may have particular value as they may show trends in species distribution and abundance over time.

    Reduction in the usage of animals may be possible if the background research suggests recent surveys have been undertaken in an area of interest and therefore a reduction in survey effort may be appropriate. Wildlife surveyors are encouraged to publish survey information whenever possible, and to lodge results where they can be accessed in the future. Examples of such repositories include the Australian Museum and the NSW Wildlife Atlas and the Atlas of Living Australia.

    Refinement in survey techniques comes from substituting non-invasive techniques such as camera traps where they can provide the same information as conventional trapping techniques.

  2. Survey design and methodology

    It is not the purpose of these guidelines to provide detailed technical advice about the design and methodology of wildlife surveys. Rather, the intent is to show how the welfare of animals can be protected during surveys by employing appropriate design and methodology. This section is a general discussion of these issues. In later sections more specific suggestions are made.

    The following points should be considered when designing a wildlife survey:

    • The methods used should be appropriate to the objectives of the project;
    • The methods used should be based on sound scientific principles so that the results are valid;
    • The methods used should minimise the impact on the animals; and
    • Sample sizes should be kept to the minimum required statistically and that number should be able to be justified.

    The following general points should be considered when determining the methods to be used in a wildlife survey.

    • Surveyors must be experienced and competent in all the techniques they intend to use.
    • Whenever possible, methods that do not require animals to be captured should be used (for example, spotlight counts, AnaBat ™ detectors, Song Meter ™ acoustic recorders, hair tubes, playback calls and camera traps).
    • If animals must be captured, the least stressful methods available should be used. Consider the biology of the animal in relation to the time of year of the survey and the time of day of capture and release of the animals. Avoid periods when there are high environmental stressors such as extreme temperatures. Ensure that animals are captive in traps for the minimum time possible.
    • Animals that have to be handled should be restrained gently and the procedures completed as quickly as possible.
    • Animals that have to be temporarily held after capture should be housed in a way appropriate to their biology and as free from environmental stressors as possible.
    • If species identification is necessary, methods used should be non-invasive and temporary whenever possible, and must not adversely interfere with the normal functioning of the animal.
  3. Voucher specimens

    The collection of voucher specimens is an important part of scientific research. However, it is a practice of concern to some sections of the community. Wildlife surveyors intending to collect voucher specimens should consult the Panel’s guidelines for the Collection of voucher specimens. With the recent advances in genetic screening, consider taking only a tissue sample that can be used for genetic analysis. Consult on an appropriate method with a genetic repository such as the Australian Museum or for mammals refer to NHMRC (2014).

    Some important points are listed below:

    • The collection of voucher specimens, the number of specimens collected, and the collection of animals from more than one site must be justified.
    • Voucher specimens should not be routinely collected for species that are readily identifiable in the field. Where only confirmation of the field identification is necessary, this might be possible by other means. Examples include hair samples, photographs and sound recordings.
    • The AEC must consider the potential conservation impact as part of the justification for collection of voucher specimens.
    • The animal welfare requirements for the capture of voucher specimens are no different from those for animals that will be released.
    • Euthanasia of animals to be used for voucher specimens must be by a method approved by the responsible AEC (see section 3.5 below).
    • Voucher specimens must be fully and correctly documented and lodged with a publicly accessible scientific collection. A tissue sample should always be taken from a voucher specimen and preserved in alcohol or cryogenically.
  4. Emergency procedures

    All applications to an AEC for wildlife research require a detailed description of emergency procedures in the event of injuries to animals, inclement weather, floods, bushfires and the illness or injury of the surveyors. The purpose of these is to ensure that threats to the welfare of animals resulting from emergencies are identified and mitigated.

    Investigators should be conversant with the Panel’s Emergency Procedures policy. Issues particularly relevant to wildlife surveys include the following.

    • Arrangements must be made to clear and close all traps in the event of inclement weather, floods and bushfires.
    • Arrangements must be made to clear and close traps in the event that illness or injury removes the investigator from the field.
    • Investigators should have the appropriate skills and equipment to euthanase seriously injured animals in the field should this be necessary. Euthanasia must be by an approved method (see section 3.5 below).
    • Arrangements must be made to appropriately transport seriously injured animals to the nearest veterinarian for treatment, noting that injured animals should be taken to veterinarians initially rather than to wildlife carers.
    • Any unexpected problems should be reported to the AEC as soon as possible, including mortalities and injuries to animals. Future surveys may need to be modified in the light of these problems.
  5. Euthanasia

    Note: this section was revised in December 2023

    Emergency euthanasia and humane killing of pest animals or specimens for vouchers may need to be carried out by wildlife surveyors in the field. Consider the following:

    • Wildlife euthanasia and humane killing protocols used should reflect current scientific understanding of efficacy and humaneness.
    • The guiding principles of the Code must be followed at all times (see Clauses 3.3.43–46 in particular).
    • Animal ethics committees should assess proposed field euthanasia and humane killing methods on their merits, considering the context and available scientific evidence for the species in question.
    • Surveyors must be trained and competent in the use of the acceptable methods of euthanasia and humane killing.
    • Two-step methods of euthanasia or humane killing are best practice and should be used when possible.
    • Methods should be proven to be humane for the species being used, and if unsure then a full literature review, consultation with experts and pilot study should be incorporated into the project.

    Investigators should be conversant with the Panel’s policy, The use of restricted drugs and the conduct of restricted acts of veterinary science in animal research, which details the legal requirements for using sodium pentobarbitone.

  6. Diseases and parasites

Surveyors should be aware of their potential exposure to zoonotic diseases (those that affect both animals and humans and may be passed between them) that are present in Australian native animals. Some of these diseases can cause serious illness or death. Several examples of zoonotic diseases include:

Viral and bacterial infections:

  • Australian Bat Lyssavirus – a virus carried by many species of bats that usually causes death unless vaccinated against.
  • Psittacosis – caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci that is typically carried by birds, especially pigeons and parrots.
  • Q fever – Caused by exposure to the bacterium Coxiella burnetii that is carried by livestock and wild life.
  • Salmonellosis – Caused by exposure to the bacterium Salmonella that is carried by reptiles and various other wildlife.
  • Toxoplasmosis – Caused by the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii that is carried by cats.

External parasites:

  • mites and ticks - These are known to be carries or various diseases including Australian Tick Typhus, Lyme disease, Babesiosis, tick paralysis and Red Meat Allergy. These infect people when they bite.

Internal parasites:

  • cestodes (tapeworms).
  • nematodes (roundworms).
  • trematodes (flukes).

Surveyors should therefore take basic precautions to prevent animal–animal, animal–human and human–animal transfer of disease. Such precautions include the following:

  • high levels of personal hygiene;
  • not eating, drinking or smoking whilst handling animals;
  • washing field clothes and equipment that has come into contact with animals’ blood or body fluids and cleaning all survey equipment between surveys;
  • basic first aid for treatment of cuts, bites and scratches;
  • observance of protocols to avoid transmission of frog chytrid fungus as outlined (Department of Environment and Climate Change 2008);
  • obtaining vaccinations against Australian Bat Lyssavirus before handling microbats and/or flying foxes.
  • minimise exposure to ticks.

Should anyone who handled animals become ill within two months of a survey, the attending medical practitioner should be informed of the potential exposure to zoonoses. Further information on zoonoses can be obtained from NSW Health.

4 Surveys of terrestrial and arboreal animals.

The Environment, Energy and Science Group has published a number of guidelines on biodiversity surveys and how to sample native fauna. There are also specific guidelines on how to survey for NSW threatened species.

The Commonwealth Department of the Environment has also prepared survey guidelines for nationally listed mammals, bats, birds, reptiles, frogs and identify techniques are applicable to the species level. See SEWPAC (2010a, 2010b, 2011a, 2011b).

  1. Methods not involving animal capture

    Some mammal species leave signs (scats and tracks) sufficiently distinctive to provide positive identification. The sign of many Australian mammal species is described in Triggs (1996). Signs that indicate the presence of species or groups of species should be used in surveys wherever possible.

  2. Animal signs
  3. Hair tubes

    The use of hair tubes is described by Scotts and Craig (1988), Lindenmayer et al. (1999) and Mills et al. (2002). Points to consider are:

    • Ensure that the floor of the tube is free of adhesive tape to prevent small lizards and frogs becoming stuck.
    • If an animal does become stuck to the tape, do not try to pull the tape off, as this may seriously damage the skin. Either carefully trim the tape on the animal to as small a size as possible (the remaining tape will be shed during normal skin replacement) or gently ease vegetable oil under the tape and slide it off.
    • Slope hair tubes with the entrance pointing slightly downwards to ensure drainage.
    • Commercially designed hair funnel traps are available with a specially prepared sticky wafer that minimise accidental captures of animals.
  4. Spotlight counts

    When spotlighting animals:

    • avoid prolonged exposure to the light (i.e. more than two minutes);
    • use a light with a narrow beam; and
    • when practical, use a red filter or, preferably, a dimmer switch to reduce light intensity for prolonged observations once the animal has been spotted.
    • Survey with a low wattage light (30 to 50 w) and briefly use a narrow beam of brighter light for identification (SEWPAC 2011a).
  5. Camera traps

The use of camera traps has become widespread in fauna survey and applies not only to mammals but also birds and reptiles (SEWPAC 2011a, Meek et al. 2012). Points to consider are:

  • Traps may be infra-red or white flash.
  • Infra-red cameras are less intrusive but do not distinguish some species sufficiently, as they do not distinguish colour.
  • Use of a lure, either scent or mechanical, focuses the detection zone and holds the animal long enough to get an image.
  • Often used in conjunction with other survey methods.
  1. Methods involving animal capture
  2. Trapping – general

In general, the following points apply to the use of traps.

  • Use the trapping method with the least impact.
  • Whenever possible, avoid trapping at times of the year when animals may be susceptible to greater stress, such as during breeding seasons or extreme heat or cold. If animals are breeding, minimise their time in traps by checking more frequently and releasing pregnant or lactating females as a matter of priority.
  • Select the type of trap that is appropriate to the species being targeted.
  • Ensure all traps are in good working order, cleaned and checked immediately prior to use.
  • Limit the number of traps set per field worker to that which can be cleared in two hours.
  • At any one site, unless otherwise justified, limit trapping periods to no more than four consecutive nights with a minimum of three nights between trapping periods to avoid continually trapping the same individuals.
  • Use a bait appropriate to diet of the target species. The bait should not only lure the animal into the trap, but should also replace the food and moisture it would have consumed had it not been trapped. This is particularly important for small mammals that have high metabolic rates.
  • Locate each trap to reduce exposure of trapped animals to the sun, wind, rain etc (for example, place traps under shrubs or beside logs).
  • Avoid placing traps in areas of high ant activity.
  • Do not trap during periods of badly inclement weather.
  • Ensure all traps are located and checked each time a trapline is checked and that all traps are removed from the field or closed at the end of the trapping period. If individual traps are numbered and set in order, it makes it easier to ensure that all traps are checked.
  • For nocturnal species, begin clearing traps at first light and where practical leave the traps closed until late afternoon. During periods of extremely cold weather, cease trapping completely or clear and close traps by 0200 hrs each day.
  • For diurnal species, have an inspection schedule that minimises the impact on any trapped animals and locate the traps so as to minimise the possibilities of heat or cold stress.
  • Release animals as soon as possible and where they were caught.
  • Cease trapping immediately if there has been an unusually high mortality of animals.
  1. Box traps (also known as Elliott traps)

    In addition to the general points in 4.2.1 above, the following need to be considered.

    • Provide bedding in the traps. Dry leaf litter and Dupont Hollofill ™ are suitable materials, although the latter sometimes wraps around the animals’ feet. Cotton wool should not be used because it absorbs moisture, increasing the risk of hypothermia.
    • In areas with wetter climates, place traps in a plastic bag, taking care to ensure adequate drainage (slope traps at 10o to the horizontal to allow drainage during rain).
    • During periods of high temperatures in areas where traps cannot be sheltered from the sun, close traps during the day.
    • Traps set in trees should be on the opposite side of the tree to the morning sun.
  2. Cage traps

    In addition to the general points in 4.2.1 above, the following need to be considered.

    • Set traps in sheltered positions.
    • Provide shelter for trapped animals by covering the trap with opaque plastic or canvas (cooler areas) or with hessian or shade cloth (hotter areas).
    • If traps cannot be sheltered from the sun, they should be closed during the day if temperatures are high.
  3. Dry pitfall traps

    The Panel has developed guidelines for the use of pitfall traps, which should be observed. In addition, consider the following points:

    • To minimise drowning from flooding, a flat styrofoam disc, at least 2-3 cm thick, may be used that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the pit and placed at the base. As the water level rises the disc floats and the animal will escape if the water level rises high enough. Alternatively, use a flat piece of wood or bark or a small stick.
    • Use suspended lids to reduce predation and close lids during adverse weather conditions.
    • Provide dry leaf litter, Dupont Hollofill, raw wool and soil or 35 mm PVC tubing to protect trapped animals.
    • Providing material for shelter may result in snakes using the traps as refuges. In these areas, traps without shelter material may be used if they are at least 400 mm deep (so that there is sufficient shade inside throughout the day).
    • On the first day of setting pitfall traps, a small amount of water should be added to the trap as appropriate to provide moisture for trapped animals.
    • Consider the need for insecticides to prevent ant attacks of trapped animals in drier areas (for example Rid™ roll-on or Coopex™ residual ant killer around the rim of the trap). However, insecticides should be used with caution, bearing in mind that the toxic effects of insecticides on most native species are unknown. Move the trap if ants start entering in numbers.
  4. Radio-tracking

Radio transmitters are rarely necessary for general wildlife surveys so their use is not covered here in depth. See the Panel guideline Radio tracking and GPS tracking.

5 Surveys of bats

A description of bat survey methods can be found in SEWPAC (2010a). Surveys for bats should be carried out by an experienced bat investigator as (apart from the fruit bats) little is known of their biology or taxonomy and species can be difficult to identify.

  1. Methods not involving animal capture

    Ultrasound detectors (for example, the AnaBat ™, Song Meter ™) can be used to detect bats without any impact and should be used whenever possible.

  2. Methods involving animal capture
  3. General

The following general points need to be considered when trapping bats:

  • Whenever possible avoid trapping during the breeding season.
  • Bats should be released at the point of capture as soon as possible. However, they should not be released in daylight. Those that cannot be released before dawn should be held until the following dusk.
  • When necessary, bats should be held separately in suspended cloth bags in a dark, quiet and warm place.
  • Bats may go into torpor in the trap or while held in bags and will need to be re-warmed before release.
  • Care should be taken when handling both flying foxes and microbats, due to the zoonotic disease Australian bat lyssavirus (see Section 3.6)
  1. Harp traps

    A description of the use of harp traps can be found in Tidemann and Woodside (1978). Points additional to those in 5.2.1 that need consideration are:

    • set traps in a sheltered spot in potential flyways;
    • clear within two hours of dusk and again after dawn but before the sun begins to warm the hessian; and
    • harp traps must not be used where large numbers of bats could be caught (for example at entrances to roost sites) to avoid the overheating of bats in the collection bag.
  2. Mist nets

    Points additional to those in 5.2.1 that need consideration are listed below.

    • Because of the high risk of injury and death to bats, mist nets should only be used where other methods have already been rejected as unsuitable.
    • Mist nets must only be used by trained and competent personnel. An appropriate authority for the use of mist nets by the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme (ABBBS) is preferred.
    • Only use mist nets after dark to avoid catching birds.
    • The net must be attended at all times and captured bats removed immediately.
    • Mist nets should not be used in areas where large numbers of bats could be caught (e.g. at entrances to roost sites).
    • Nets should be closed when not attended and during the day.
  3. Trip lines

Note that trip lines are ineffective for bats that can take off from water (e.g. fishing bats).

Points additional to those in 5.2.1 that need consideration are:

  • Risks of injury to bats, so use other methods whenever possible;
  • Monitor continually whenever the line is deployed;
  • Be prepared to enter the water to rescue bats if necessary; and
  • Have at least one low-powered torch to collect bats since they will swim away from bright lights.

6 Platypus

Platypuses are one of the most difficult species to handle and maintain in captivity, because they are highly susceptible to stress unless managed carefully and with a high degree of knowledge and expertise (NHMRC 2014). Wildlife surveys would rarely need to capture platypus to establish their presence. Direct observation at dawn and dusk of suitable riverine habitat is sufficient to establish their presence but not their absence.

  • Before any trapping is undertaken, the likelihood of platypus being present should be ascertained from other sources including recent published reports and observational surveys undertaken by the surveyor.
  • In deep water habitats, lightly weighted gill nets should be used in case platypus are present to allow them to swim to the surface.
  • Trapping must not be carried out during the months of October-March, when females are laying eggs and raising young, unless justified to the AEC.
  • Gill nets should be observed continuously to detect when a platypus is caught, e.g. by the splashing.
  • Gill nets should be lifted every hour to check for snags and entrapped large fish.
  • Nets should have a stretched mesh size of at least 150 mm, or be fitted with an entrance grill with a mesh size of less than 35 mm, or be set so that there is an air space available along the length of the net.
  • Due to the potential to cause deaths of platypus and turtles check with NSW Fisheries before deployment. Note that it is illegal to use opera-house style traps in some NSW waterways.
  • Captured platypus should be transferred to a clean bag or secure box and held in a quiet place until all nets are closed for the night, to minimise the likelihood of hypothermia, attack by predators or by other platypus (particularly between males in the breeding season).

7 Surveys of birds

Numerous methods have been developed for the detection of birds in wildlife survey and the structuring of sample design (SEWPAC 2010b). Choosing an appropriate design and method will depend entirely on the questions being asked.

  1. Methods not involving animal capture
    • Avoid close range inspection during breeding and feeding.
    • Carry out searches for nests, mounds, display areas, characteristic scrapes and scratchings, visual and auditory searches such as breeding calls.
  2. Direct Observation
  3. Playback calls
    • Avoid prolonged exposure by limiting calling sessions to two 15 minute periods per night.
    • Use of play back calls during the species’ breeding season should be done with care so as not to disrupt the breeding of the resident animals.
  4. Acoustic Monitoring

    The advent of cheap digital acoustic recorders that allow the continuous recording of ambient noise has allowed acoustic monitoring to become a viable method of survey. Subsequent sound analysis, using specialised software or expertise, identifies the calls of particular species. This could be an efficient method of detecting species that only occasionally frequent an area or are highly secretive and difficult to detect.

  5. Spotlighting owls

Examples of techniques to census owls can be found in Kavanagh and Peake (1993).

See also section 4.1.3 Spotlight counts

  1. Methods involving animal capture
  2. Mist nets

Guidelines for using mist nets can be found in the Australian Bird Banders Manual (Lowe 1989).

  • Because of the high risk of injury and death to birds, mist nets should only be used where other methods have already been rejected as unsuitable.
  • Mist nets must only be used by trained and competent personnel. An appropriate authority for the use of mist nets by the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme (ABBBS) is preferred.
  • Mist nets should be attended at least every 30 minutes and captured birds removed immediately.
  • Nets must be closed when not attended.

8 Surveys of reptiles and frogs

  1. General

    A summary of survey methods for reptiles can be found in Blomberg and Shine (1996).

    Choosing the correct season is critical for effective surveys of frogs (and to a lesser extent with reptiles). Most frog species are active only during the warmer months of the year (Spring–Summer–Autumn), although there are some that are active only during the cooler months (Autumn and Winter). Outside of their active season many frogs aestivate or go into torpor, usually in burrows, hollows in trees, crevices in timber or rocks or under loose soil. When in torpor, they are undetectable. To a lesser extent this may also occur during the active season when weather conditions are unsuitable (e.g. dry).

  2. Surveys not involving animal capture
  3. Spotlighting frogs with or without using playback
  • Avoid excessive foot traffic around the water body.
  • Keep exposure to a minimum to prevent overheating.
  • Use a lower intensity light held at a distance for further observations.
  1. Camera Traps

    Camera traps can be deployed for reptiles when mounted vertically over a gap in a drift fence. This works particularly well for larger lizards and snakes that are not readily captured with conventional means. See Welbourne (2013, 2014) for this technique.

  2. Surveys involving animal capture
  3. General
  • Consider that hand searches carried out by experienced personnel under suitable conditions will locate nearly all species of reptiles and frogs in an area within a short period of time that may mean that fewer traps or no traps at all need be set.
  • Frogs should be handled as little as possible because handling removes skin secretions and predisposes the frog to fungal infections (White 1990), while continuous holding in the hand can result in overheating.
  • Hygiene precautions as detailed in Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW) (2008) must be observed when handling frogs and tadpoles, including the use of gloves.
  • Gloved hands should be made wet in the local water or in wet grass/vegetation so that loss of skin secretions is minimised when frogs are first picked up.
  • Frogs should be moistened with rainwater or water from the stream being surveyed after holding. They may be held separately temporarily (up to 24 hours) in a new moist plastic bag containing some vegetation (although, in the dark, vegetation will absorb oxygen).
  • Reptiles should be held separately in appropriately sized secure bags or boxes with some vegetation, or a moist paper towel, as appropriate, in a cool place.
  • Tadpoles are often easier to find than adult frogs and provide important information about habitats used and other measures of environmental quality. However, care needs to be taken when handling tadpoles, as handling can result in a high level of injury and death of the tadpoles. See Anstis (2002) for identification keys.
  1. Hand searching for amphibians and reptiles
    • Take care when moving and repositioning rocks and logs to prevent animal injuries and avoid causing habitat disturbance that may affect the subsequent abundance of the species.
    • Wash hands without soap (for instance in the water of the water body being surveyed or with rainwater) to reduce contamination from chemicals.
    • Noose type devices to catch large reptiles should be used with care and devices used to pin snakes need to be padded to avoid causing injury.
  2. Pitfall traps

    Note that the Panel’s guideline Use of pitfall traps should be followed.

    See also section 4.2.4 Dry pitfall traps.

    • PVC tubing or objects such as a piece of wood, may be placed at the bottom to provide a perch or shelter for trapped animals. Burrowing animals prefer loose soil and, in western areas when trapping for lizards, provide a layer of sand.
    • Use a saturated sponge to provide high moisture levels for trapped frogs or provide water plus a dry area by using a rock or by tipping the trap so that the bottom has a dry and a wet area.
    • Insecticides may be used where ants are prevalent (for example Rid™ roll-on or Coopex™ residual ant killer around the rim of the trap). However, insecticides should be used with caution, bearing in mind that the toxic effects of insecticides on most reptiles and frogs are unknown. Move the trap if ants start entering in numbers.
    • Check twice a day.
    • Small drainage holes should be placed in the bottom of the pitfall trap.
    • Keep handling time to a minimum.
  3. Spider tubes

Some species of reptile including Grassland Earless Dragon inhabit burrowing spider tubes. Inspection of these visually or with an endoscope can be used to detect the presence of these species.

9 Surveys of turtles

  1. Freshwater turtles
    • Set traps with an air space to prevent drowning of turtles or by-catch such as platypus, water rats or water birds. The air space can be maintained by use of a float (e.g. an empty drink container) or by tying the trap to an overhanging tree or log. Opera-house style traps can be tied to a stake on the bank. Note that is illegal to use opera-house style traps in some NSW waterways; check with NSW Fisheries before deployment.
    • Traps should be checked at least at dawn and dusk. They should be checked more frequently if turtle numbers are high and during summer.
    • Transport animals separately to avoid the risk of shell damage and hence infection. Keep cool during transport to avoid heat stress.
  2. Marine turtles
  • Marine turtles are very susceptible to heat stress, especially during transport. They can be cooled by the use of wet hessian bags.
  • Confining the animals in small spaces increases the risk of abrasions, and hence infections. Marine turtles are best restrained by placing them on their backs in a cool place.
  • During transport, insulate from heat and also from vibration. They are best transported within a vehicle rather than in the tray of a utility.

10 Surveys of fish

General information on survey design and best use of methods is available in Merrick (1990), SEWPAC (2011b) and Barker et al. (2009).

  • Consider that fish are usually in their best condition in spring and early summer and will be able to cope with the shock of capture and recover more quickly than in the winter or in mid-summer after spawning.
  • Use nets with soft mesh (for example, cotton or nylon) to reduce damage to the fish.
  • Use appropriately sized and weighted traps to reduce the risk of non-target animals being caught.
  • Fyke nets should have an air space by being set partially out of the water to prevent drowning of trapped mammals (such as platypus and water rats) or waterfowl. Otherwise they should have a means of escape.
  • If possible, avoid using gill nets because fish caught in these often die (or are so damaged during removal that they are unlikely to survive) and because they have the potential to trap many non target species.
  • Check and empty traps regularly.
  • Handle the fish as little as possible.
  • Minimise the removal of the fish’s protective mucous covering and reduce temperature shock by wetting hands first in the water that the fish was caught.
  • If electrofishing is being used for sampling, operators should have appropriate training and follow guidelines set out in NSW Fisheries (1997).

11 References

American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (2004) Guidelines for the use of live amphibians and reptiles in field and laboratory research.Second Edition. Herpetologists’ League, Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. 42pp.

American Veterinary Medical Association (2013) AVMA Guidelines for the euthanasia of animals: 2013 edition. American Veterinary Medical Association, Schaumburg, Illinois.

Anstis, M. (2002) Tadpoles of South-east Australia. New Holland Publishers, Sydney.

Bali, R. & Delaney, R. (1996) Assessment of Koala Radiocollaring Studies in South eastern Australia. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Sydney.

Barker, D., Allan, G.L., Rowland, S.J., Kennedy, J.D. & Pickles, J.M. (2009) A Guide to Acceptable Procedures and Practices for Aquaculture and Fisheries Research. Primary Industries (Fisheries) Animal Care and Ethics Committee, Nelson Bay NSW.

Barrett, G., Barry, S., Cunningham, R., Poulter, R. & Silcocks, A. (2004) The New Atlas of Australian Birds. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

Blomberg, S. & Shine, R. (2006) Reptiles, pp. 297-307, in J. Sutherland (ed.) Ecological Census Techniques: A Handbook. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW) (2008) Hygiene protocol for the control of disease in frogs. Information Circular No. 6. DECC (NSW). Sydney South

DeTolla, L.J., Srinivas, S., Whitaker, B.R., Andrews, C., Hecker, B., Kane, AS. & Reimschuessel, R. (1995) Guidelines for the Care and Use of Fish in Research. ILARJournal 37: 159-173.

Fair, J., Paul, E. & Jones, J. (Eds) (2010) Guidelines to the use of wild birds in research. Ornithological Council, Washington DC.

Helman, P. & Churchill, S. (1986) Bat capture techniques and their use in surveys. Macroderma 2: 32-53.

Kavanagh, R. & Peake, P. (1993) Survey procedures for nocturnal forest birds: an evaluation of the variability in census results due to temporal factors, weather and technique. Pp. 86-100, in P. Olsen (ed.) Australian Raptor Studies. Australian Raptor Association, RAOU, Melbourne.

Lindenmayer, D.B., Incoll, R.D., Cunningham, R.B., Pope, M.L., Donnelly, C.F., MacGregor, C.I., Tribolet, C. & Triggs, B.E. (1999) Comparison of hairtube types for the detection of mammals. Wildlife Research 26: 745-753.

Lowe, K.W. (1989) The Australian Bird and Bat Banders Manual. Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Canberra.

Meek, P. & Fleming, P. (eds.) (2014) Camera Trapping: Wildlife Management and Research. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

Mills, D.J., Harris, B., Claridge, A.W. & Barry, S.C. (2002) Efficacy of hair-sampling techniques for the detection of medium-sized terrestrial mammals. I. A comparison between hair-funnels, hair tubes and indirect signs. Wildlife Research 29: 379-387

National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, 8th edition. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.

National Health and Medical Research Council (2014) A Guide to the care and use of Australian native mammals in research and teaching. National Health and Medical Research Council, Canberra.

NSW Fisheries (1997) Australian Code of Electrofishing Practice. NSW Fisheries Management Publication No. 1

Parnaby, H. (1992a) An interim guide to the identification on insectivorous bats of southeastern Australia. Technical Reports of the Australian Museum No. 8. Australian Museum, Sydney.

Parnaby, H. (1992b) Summary of the ultrasonic survey of the microbats of north east New

South Wales, 1991/1992. Report to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Sydney.

Petit, S. & Waudby, H.P. (2012) Standard operating procedures for aluminium box, wire cage, and pitfall trapping, handling, and temporary housing of small wild rodents and marsupials. Wildlife Research 60: 392-401.

Reilly, J. (ed) (2001) Euthanasia of animals used for scientific purposes. ANZCCART, Glen Osmond, South Australia.

Scotts, D.J. & Craig, S.A. (1988) Improved hair sampling tube for detection of rare mammals. Australian Wildlife Research 15: 469-472.

Sikes, R.S. & Gannon, W.L. and the Animal Care and Use Committee of the American Society of Mammalogists. (2011) Guidelines of the American Society of Mammalogists for the use of wild mammals in research. Journal of Mammalogy 92: 235-253.

Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC) Department (2010a) Survey guidelines for Australia’s threatened bats. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC) Department (2010b) Survey guidelines for Australia’s threatened birds. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC) Department (2011a) Survey guidelines for Australia’s threatened mammals. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC) Department (2011b) Survey guidelines for Australia’s threatened fish. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Tidemann, C.R. & Woodside, D.P. (1978) A collapsible bat trap and a comparison of results obtained with the trap and mist nets. Australian Wildlife Research 5: 355-362.

Triggs, B. (1996) Tracks Scats and Other Traces: A Field Guide to Australian Mammals. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (1996) Recommendations for euthanasia of experimental animals: Part 1. Laboratory Animals 30: 293-316.

Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (1997) Recommendations for euthanasia of experimental animals: Part 2. Laboratory Animals 31: 1-32.

Universities Federation for Animal Welfare /World Society for the Protection of Animals (1989) Euthanasia of Amphibians and Reptiles: Report of a Joint UFAW/WSPA Working Party. UFAW, South Mimms, Potters Bar, Herts, UK. And WSPA, London, UK.

Van Dyck, S. & Strahan, R. (2008) The Mammals of Australia. New Holland Publishers, Sydney.

Walraven, E. (1990) Taronga Zoo’s Guide to the Care of Urban Wildlife. Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Welbourne, D. (2013) A method for surveying diurnal terrestrial reptiles with passive infrared automatically triggered cameras. Herpetological Review 44: 247-250.

Welbourne, D.J. (2014) Using camera traps to survey diurnal terrestrial reptiles: a proof of concept. pp. 225-232, P. Meek, P. Fleming, G. Ballard, P. Banks, A. Claridge, J. Sanderson & D. Swann D (eds.) Camera Trapping Wildlife Management and Research. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.


Stephen Jackson (NSW DPI) for the development of the current edition and Mike Fleming (DPIE) for providing comments on the draft document. The previous edition of these guidelines was developed with the assistance of M. Murray, P. Burcher, A. Adair, K. Kendall, Leong Lim, ERM Mitchell McCotter, Bob Harden, Gerard Körtner, Fritz Geiser the Australian Platypus Conservancy, the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment, members of the Wildlife Advisory Group and the ethics committees they represent. Revised previously by Bob Harden (OEH), Mike Fleming, (OEH) and Amanda Paul (DPI).