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Goats to weed out park problem in trial to protect inner-city skink

John Masanauskas, July 31, 2022 2:30PM Kids News

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A tribe of goats has landed in Melbourne’s Royal Park as part of a City of Melbourne trial to regenerate the habitat of the park’s White’s skink population, a regionally significant species of lizard. Picture: Mark Stewart media_cameraA tribe of goats has landed in Melbourne’s Royal Park as part of a City of Melbourne trial to regenerate the habitat of the park’s White’s skink population, a regionally significant species of lizard. Picture: Mark Stewart

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We kid you not, goats have been called in to assist a little lizard living in a city park.

The first of the goat helpers has been delivered to Melbourne’s Royal Park to chomp on weeds that are threatening the habitat* of White’s skink.

The skinks have lived in part of the park for more than 20 years, and are one of the only surviving populations in central Melbourne.

media_cameraWhite’s skink is similar in appearance to this Blue Mountains water skink. Melbourne’s Royal Park White’s skinks have been living in the park for around 20 years. Picture: NSW Government

They prefer rocky habitats and shaded vegetation, and open areas to soak in sunlight. They create burrows to avoid predators*, hibernate* and reproduce. But weeds have harmed their Royal Park habitat, with exotic grasses smothering* their basking* sites.

The goats will be gradually introduced to seven fenced-off plots in the park in coming weeks.

The City of Melbourne is conducting the trial with Melbourne University as part of a plan to improve ecosystem* health and biodiversity*.

Acting Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said the council was keen to see if the goats can “work their grazing magic” and improve the lizard’s habitat.

Grazing Goats to Revitalise Royal Park media_cameraGrazed and ungrazed plots will be analysed as part of the trial to determine whether goats can safely remove the weeds and help restore the habitat of the White’s skink. Picture: Mark Stewart

“We’re not kidding about our important ecological* systems – the scale of this project is enough to make a White’s skink blush,” he said.

Environmental portfolio lead councillor Rohan Leppert said it was important to ensure Melbourne’s inner-city ecosystems were healthy and diverse.

“We hope this experiment can steer us away from the use of chemical herbicides* and manual* weeding in this challenging site,” he said.

Melbourne University urban ecology research fellow Dr Julian Brown said it was valuable working with the city council to develop new evidence-based urban landscape management techniques.

Grazing Goats to Revitalise Royal Park media_cameraThe goats will be gradually introduced to seven fenced-off plots in coming weeks, having already attracted interest from regular visitors to the park. Picture: Mark Stewart

“By comparing grazed and ungrazed plots we can determine whether goats can safely remove the weeds and help restore the habitat of White’s skink,” Dr Brown said.

Under the trial, eight extra plots will be used as control sites and left unmanaged.

Native grasses will be planted, and the lizard population and quality of habitat will be measured again in autumn next year.

GLOSSARY

  • habitat: natural environment in which an animal or plant usually lives and grows
  • predators: animals that kill and eat other animals in order to survive
  • hibernate: to spend winter sleeping or in a dormant state
  • smothering: stopping something from growing freely, suffocating, stifling
  • basking: enjoying the warmth of the sun
  • ecosystem: bubble of plants, animals, other organisms, landscape and weather taken together
  • biodiversity: variety of life found in a particular place or the total variety of life on Earth
  • ecological: concerning the relationship between living things and their environment
  • herbicides: weedkillers, often chemical, for killing unwanted plants
  • manual: done by hand, physical labour

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What type of lizard lives in Melbourne’s Royal Park?
  2. What has been smothering their basking sites?
  3. How long have the lizards been living in the inner-city park?
  4. Why do they create burrows?
  5. Councillors hope the goat experiment will steer them away from using what?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. White’s skink habitat
Draw a picture (or make a model if you have the time and materials) of an ideal habitat for a White’s skink. Label the features to show what you have included.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science; Visual Arts

2. Extension
Explain the significance of the opening phrase of this news story, “We kid you not …”

Then, choose three other animals and write a clever phrase that you could use to open a news story about each of them.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

VCOP ACTIVITY
Goat lawnmowers
The local farmers have a new idea business idea to pitch … hiring their goats out as lawnmowers for local property owners and businesses!

What do you think? Make a list of pros and cons to having a goat as a lawnmower.

Create a poster or flyer advertising the new service to hand out to local businesses and land owners.

Extra Reading in animals