Feature

Meet the people of AWC: Fauna Ecologist Pat Hodgens

27 Apr. 2024
Brad Leue/AWC

Welcome to ‘Meet the People of AWC’, a captivating series dedicated to unveiling the heart and soul of our organisation through the stories of the incredible individuals who make it all possible. In this series, we’ll take you on a journey to uncover the unique stories, passions, and expertise of the incredible individuals that make Australian Wildlife Conservancy who we are.

Fauna Ecologist Pat Hodgens’ contracted role with AWC is to oversee and deliver the science program for The Western River Refuge on beautiful Kangaroo Island, off the South Australian coast. He joined forces with AWC after the devastating black summer bushfires that occurred on the Island during 2019/2020.

“After working on the conservation of the Kangaroo Island Dunnart for several years with private landholders through the Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife program, we had decided to create a feral cat-free area on the western side of the island by constructing a fence on the Doube family property.”

“This refuge would be built around one of the very few known (at the time) populations of the endangered Kangaroo Island Dunnart. I approached Australian Wildlife Conservancy in late 2019 to see if they were interested in being involved and they were – so the project was born. Only weeks later over 50% of Kangaroo Island was burnt severely in the black summer fires including the planned site of the refuge.”

Pat marking the fence line of what would become Western River Refuge. Brad Leue/AWC
Pat marking the fence line of what would become Western River Refuge.

“Our team worked hard straight after the fire to locate any unburnt patches of vegetation and recommence surveys for any surviving populations of Kangaroo Island Dunnart and other threatened species. Within days of the fire, we had detected dunnarts in a small patch of unburnt vegetation, but we were also detecting many feral cats invading the bushland from the wider fire scar.”

“AWC were amazing and were willing to help us out without any questions. Within weeks we had a team of skilled ecologists on the ground, a full-time feral animal control officer and within six weeks we had created the critical refuge – a 12-hectare feral predator-free area encompassing the only Kangaroo Island Dunnart population that had been known to survive the fire at the time. In 2020, we completed stage 2 of The Western River Refuge and have now 370 hectares of private bushland free from feral cats!”

Pat (right) with Land Management Officer Murray Schofield and a felixer unit. These devices were deployed at Kangaroo Island after the fires to combat the impact of feral cats on displaced wildlife Brad Leue/AWC
Pat (right) with Land Management Officer Murray Schofield and a felixer unit. These devices were deployed at Kangaroo Island after the fires to combat the impact of feral cats on displaced wildlife.

“Working with AWC has seen me travel to, and be involved in, a variety of projects on AWC properties and partnership areas.”

“I’ve had a long association with Newhaven after living in central Australia for ten years and it was great to get back to Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary last year while helping out on the Boodie (Burrowing Bettong) and Golden Bandicoot translocations into the Newhaven exclosure.”

“I’ve also helped out on biodiversity surveys at Bullo River Station and also worked on translocations involving species from Yookamurra and Scotia Wildlife Sanctuaries. Last year I was fortunate to spend ten days up in the Artesian Range undertaking a population estimate for the Golden Bandicoot ahead of the translocation to Newhaven.”

“I’ve also helped out briefly with felixer trials at Paruna and Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuaries. All great places with awesome staff doing great things with interesting species and habitats.”

Pat with a translocated Golden Bandicoot (Isoodon auratus) at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northern Territory. Aliesha Dodson/AWC
Pat with a translocated Golden Bandicoot (Isoodon auratus) at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northern Territory.

“If I had to pick just one area of study it would be hard to say, as it’s all very interesting – but my favourite would have to be threatened species translocations. There’s something very rewarding about seeing animals back in habitats that they once lived in and have become extinct.”

“While we rely on fences for most translocations, I’m really interested in managing the areas adjacent and outside fences where we can trial outside fence translocations if we can work out ways to innovatively manage threatening processes.”

Pat processing a Kangaroo Island Dunnart (Sminthopsis aitkeni), just one of the species protected by the predator-free area on Kangaroo Island. Jason Laverty/AWC
Pat processing a Kangaroo Island Dunnart (Sminthopsis aitkeni), just one of the species protected by the predator-free area on Kangaroo Island.

“I’ve spent an unexpected amount of time in my career working with feral cats but when you are trying to save our species in Australia, it’s best to know your enemy and one of the biggest enemies is the feral cat. I’ve actually really enjoyed learning ways to innovatively control feral cats for the benefit of a host of species.”

“I am a birder at heart and I especially like working with parrots – but that doesn’t occur that often anymore. I spend a lot of my time working with endangered mammal species so it’s hard to pick a favourite, but I do of course have a very special place in my heart for my fellow Kangaroo islander, the Kangaroo Island Dunnart!”

Learn more about Pat’s work at Western River Refuge in this episode of Wildlife Matters.

“There are so many best and interesting parts of working with AWC – being in nature, learning things about species that are new to science, practically making a difference to species recovery, working with other really passionate people in highly motivated teams is all very rewarding.  I think the best part of my job is generally feeling like what I’m doing isn’t actually really work!!!! To be able to make a career out of your passion is incredibly rewarding.”

Our “Meet the people of AWC” series will continue to introduce you to the dedicated individuals who contribute to the conservation and protection of Australia’s wildlife. Stay tuned for upcoming spotlights, where we’ll uncover the passions and expertise of our diverse team.

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