Misleading zoo comparison as wallabies get blasted with light


p2355-festival-in-light-1By ERWIN CHLANDA
The NT Government website promoting tomorrow’s “Festival in Light” is misleading by making comparisons with a similar show at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.
The site asks: “Will the light show impact the black-footed rock-wallabies on the MacDonnell ranges?”
It answers its own question: “Similar lighting specifications have been used for events staged at Taronga Zoo and within the Blue Mountains National Park in NSW, without any evident detrimental effects on wildlife.”
But the Taronga Zoo says that most animals were in their night dens and not exposed to the lights, and the light sculptures were kept away from the paths.
Environmentalists in Alice Springs have expressed concerns about the unprotected wildlife on the northern flank of the range, more than two kilometres of which will be illuminated.
The Alice Springs News Online is seeking further information from the zoo and the NT Government’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources which is quoted on the site as saying that “there is a very low risk that the light show will have a significant impact on the population of Black-footed Rock-wallabies and other wildlife on the MacDonnell Ranges”.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Michael Gunner is embracing the show – brainchild of his predecessor Adam Giles – by hosting an invitation only opening night dinner for the show at the Desert Park restaurant. “Dress: Territory Rig. Gentlemen: Trousers, long-sleeved shirt and tie. Ladies: Day dress / after five.”
UPDATE 3:45pm
Further to this morning’s comments, a spokeswoman for Taronga Zoo, while stressing she is making no comment on the Alice Springs event, says the zoo’s “first concern is always the welfare of the remarkable animals in its care.
“Fortunately Taronga Zoo has more than 20 years experience in successfully hosting after hours events, including New Year’s Eve and the Twilight at Taronga Zoo concerts. Keepers constantly monitor the animals for these events, but there has never been a problem.
“The locations of the lanterns and light sculptures have been carefully chosen to focus on public areas rather than animal exhibits.
“Taronga Zoo’s animals also have access to the comfort and shelter of their night quarters and inside areas, but it’s not uncommon for certain animals to choose to remain outside during night events.”
UPDATE 12:50pm September 23
The impact of the light show on wildlife has been exaggerated, says Dr Alaric Fisher, Executive Director, Flora and Fauna Division of the NT Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
In a written opinion given to the organisers he said: “Wildlife scientists from the department have assessed that there is a very low risk that the light show will have a significant impact on the population of Black-footed Rock wallabies in the MacDonnell ranges, due to the very small proportion of their habitat that is affected, and the limited time period of potential disturbance.”
When asked by the Alice Springs News Online to comment further, Dr Fisher said the opinion referred especially to Black-footed Rock wallabies, because they are the subject of a petition, but other wildlife was equally at a “very low risk”.
He said: “They move to the lower part of the range at night for feeding. There are rocks and crevasses and there is plenty of shadow.”
Dr Fisher says the lasers are not concentrated spot beams, such as they have been misused to affect aircraft pilots, but they are “diffused” by the time they reach the Ranges.
He said no referral to the Australian Minister for Environment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999  is required, “as the action is not likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance”.


  1. What research has been done on the effect of our fireworks season on our native birds and animals? We all know about our domestic pets’ trauma.
    I’d be very surprised if galahs don’t suffer anxiety. Can they sue as well?

  2. Perhaps I should clarify my previous comment a little more. Legally, cruelty to animals is an offence.
    What is the evidence that a light display of this kind doesn’t have an adverse effect on the vision of nocturnal animals?
    Does an event of this kind not invoke the requirement of animal ethics considerations?
    Why would this particular event be regarded as an exception, and upon whose authority? Finally, if examples do occur of animals such as the rock wallabies and hill kangaroos being blinded by these lights, how will this situation be reconciled with tourism promotion and our reputation for environmental responsibility?
    Given this event will proceed, I hope it does prove to be harmless.

  3. Isn’t it a bit ironic that a light show that celebrates Aboriginal Central Desert culture and was the brainchild of a former Chief Minister who is of Aboriginal heritage now has doubts raised about its possible adverse effect on Central Desert wildlife?
    Has anyone thought to ask Aboriginal desert culture knowledge sources for their views on the issue?

  4. Thanks to the Alice News for pursuing this story in the face of significant spin. Based on the publicity image alone and the vulnerable status of black flanked rock wallabies, Zoologist and petitioner, Mark Carter has every right to be concerned. Without baseline data, the carefully worded assertion “there is a very low risk that the light show will have a significant impact on the population of Black-footed Rock-wallabies…” seems disingenuous and unworthy.
    Rock wallabies have large eyes packed with light gathering rods and while I’m not a scientist, I’d have thought this makes them more sensitive to light and therefore disturbance and stress. Perhaps they will have less time to forage and that might push them into riskier behaviour, at a time when wedge-tailed eagles and dingoes are focussed on hunting the inexperienced joeys that have recently left their mother’s pouch.
    Is the Desert Park risking its good reputation, its brand, as it bows to no holds barred tourism? Statements by Taronga Park Zoo officials reflects a commendable duty of care but I’m left wondering if it’s another case of the economic tail wags the dog in Mparntwe.
    I’m sure people will be thrilled by this light show and I’m equally sure that it could have been designed and hosted in a way that tells a better story on a more respectful canvass. Such an approach might have drawn our community together instead of this constant push pull that benefits few.
    We are very fortunate to share this landscape with viable rock wallaby populations, given population collapses elsewhere. Perhaps those tourism officials that are so certain about this benign event might volunteer to be be tied to a stake for a few nights to get a wallaby perspective on the light show. Alternatively, I’m sure we could show the organisers more suitable mountain ramparts where there are no rock wallabies left to disturb.

  5. All we can do now it is to pray the gods for a big storm which will cancel this show. We are becoming a society of superficial tastes.
    “Vanity of vanities,” says the koheleth, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
    The word vanity does not mean self-admiration in this context. It means useless, illusion
    (panem et circenses – bread and circuses).

  6. I attended this evening.
    A total of 1.5 hours was spent either in transit or waiting for the lone bus driver on the Araluen run.
    The lights were impressive for all of about 10 minutes. I found myself distracted by the seemingly endless traffic and harassment by survey workers.
    Having found a quiet spot, it wasn’t long before I realised the night stars provided more stimulus and moments of reflection than the tedious laser beams.
    And yes all through the evening, in the back of my mind, were thoughts of how this will affect local wildlife.
    This event represents all the superficiality and self-indulgence of the Giles years.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here