The stretch of highway between Rochester and Echuca may not seem like a place for an animal sanctuary.
But hidden behind the trees, the Strathallan Glider Sanctuary is working to restore the area’s population of squirrel gliders.
Since 2015, Veronica and John Groat have set up 16 aviary-style cages for their growing family of squirrel gliders, having started with just two: Strath and Allan.
There are now 40 gliders in the sanctuary, and although some will be unable to survive in the wild, the goal of the breeding program is to return them to their natural habitat where they can thrive and continue to reproduce.
A glider that passed through the shrine had its tail wrapped in barbed wire on a nearby farm property, and Veronica and John were able to remove the wire, rehabilitate her, and bring her back to the wild with a new name: Barbie.
“The goal is to get them back to the bush,” Ms. Groat said.
“It was sad for us to put Barbie back on, but that’s where they should be – in the wild.”
The team supporting the sanctuary has also grown to include zoologists and a botanist from Melbourne, who got involved when they were students and now help track the genomes and genetics of gliders.
Along with the growth of the sanctuary’s reproductive and tracking capacity, the group has twice requested funding from the Ministry of the Environment, Lands, Water and Planning to enable the group to relocate its gliders, but was refused twice.
“We thought we had found the perfect place [to relocate the gliders] in the second application, ”Ms. Groat said.
“It was before contact, with lots of trees, and it was a known meeting place for indigenous peoples throughout history.
“We received a letter of support from Uncle Henry of the Yorta Yorta Nation, and in this attempt we had our zoologist and a botanist, but it was not enough.”
As the fight continues for the group to relocate its gliders, it has supported the local people with its “foster family” status, meaning it can care for injured or sick gliders until they are ‘they are healed, then bring them back to the bush.
The group is also supporting population growth by installing birdhouses in the trees between Echuca and Elmore.
Between 350 and 400 boxes have been installed to date, and all are tracked by GPS.
“We are inspecting the nesting boxes to see if gliders in the area are using them,” Groat said.
“We set up 10 nesting boxes in the forest behind the high school, and later found that two of them contained bees and eight of them were used by gliders,” Ms. Groat said.
“People think we’ll be disappointed if there aren’t any gliders in the boxes, but that’s not true.
“Data is always important: if there aren’t any gliders using the caissons, we know they’re not there.
The Strathallan Squirrel Glider Sanctuary has received support from many local businesses in Rochester and the surrounding area, including the Rochester Business Network, which promoted a squirrel glider as Rochy’s face, proudly painted on the silo in the center of town, and the Bendigo Bank, which has been involved in many different projects at the shrine.
Good View: The squirrel glider on the silo in central Rochester is courtesy of the Strathallan Squirrel Glider Sanctuary.
If you would like to support the Strathallan Squirrel Glider Sanctuary, donations can be made to Bendigo Bank in Rochester with the following details:
Acc: 161 878 335