More than ever before, the children of today have an uncertain environmental future, not knowing what species will still exist in their lifetime. Bouncing Back: An Eastern Barred Bandicoot Story tells the story of one of southeastern Australia’s most iconic threatened species. It is also a story of hope.
While speaking with Rohan Cleave, the author of this special children’s book, his passion for conservation and storytelling becomes obvious. It is no surprise, then, that Rohan has learnt to combine these two passions in the form of children’s books about Australia’s natural world. The Eastern Barred Bandicoot, a small marsupial which is extinct in the wild, is the main character in author Rohan Cleave’s and illustrator Coral Tulloch’s latest children’s book from CSIRO Publishing.
The two have worked together before on Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect. It may not seem like a natural progression in storytelling, from this unusual phasmid to the endearing Eastern Barred Bandicoot, but for Rohan it was an obvious choice. Back in 1996, the Eastern Barred Bandicoot conservation project was in its tender days and for Rohan, a new employee of Melbourne Zoo, it was the first project he was involved in. It obviously left its mark, with Rohan’s second children’s book starring this charismatic marsupial in a hopeful tale of survival.
‘It’s just a great conservation story, a story of hope. A story of people coming together to do something good.’
The book balances natural history with a classic children’s adventure tale, weaving in information regarding the fascinating ecology of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot. Following the story’s conclusion, there is also a glossary containing further information to aid teachers and parents in sharing more of the bandicoot’s story. Coral brilliantly captures the essence of the bandicoot in her artwork; the illustrations leap across the page, depicting bandicoots bounding for moths and scampering amongst rubbish piles, lifting their timid noses to the sky in search of something not quite there.
There are few books that not only capture the wonder and imagination that is that sacred ritual of storytime for a child, but also spark a fire in these young readers to make a difference. The portrayal of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot’s plight is raw – we see them evade predators and lose their habitat, taking refuge in rubbish tips. The struggle of a species almost driven to extinction by human disturbance which then takes refuge in the waste of the very threat that drove them there is palpable. But this isn’t the end of the story. As Rohan so passionately states, ‘We are the problem, but we are also the solution.’
This idea is what truly makes this story a special one. The fight to save the Eastern Barred Bandicoot began in 1989 when the species was on the brink of extinction. Multiple research groups, charities and countless volunteers banded together, working to boost population numbers. In 1991, Zoos Victoria came on board, taking on the momentous task of captive breeding. As of today, over 640 individuals have been bred. This is the longest standing conservation project in Australia to restore a species, and it’s thankfully on the path to success, with three protected populations now inhabiting predator-free sites in Victorian grasslands.
But the plight of this bandicoot isn’t over yet. Grasslands are in fact the hardest hit of any ecosystem in Australia due to land clearing for agriculture and housing developments, meaning the Eastern Barred Bandicoot has very few places to go. But innovation and science are on the project’s side.
Drawing on the success of the Middle Island Maremma Project in Warrnambool where the local Little Penguin population is being successfully protected from fox predation, Zoos Victoria is trialling the same strategy with the Eastern Barred Bandicoot. This will potentially allow wild populations to exist outside of the protective, predator-free fences. ‘That’s exciting, the science is awesome,’ Rohan says of the initiative. Refuge island populations are also a key component in this conservation project, with plans to release bandicoot populations onto Phillip Island and French Island.
The fight to save this species is a huge collaborative effort and the tireless contribution of many organisations and volunteers cannot be ignored, least of all by Rohan, who invited everyone who contributes to the cause to the book launch of Bouncing Back. ‘It’s recognition for their part in the story… The volunteers and small groups that don’t get the recognition that they absolutely deserve,’ he says.
Anyone that has had to explain seemingly complex problems to children will wonder how authors such as Rohan do it – how do we describe the awful things we humans have done to our surrounding environment without leaving children despairing for their future, giving up before they have even started? But for Rohan, making this connection is a simple one.
‘For me it’s about being honest, not talking down to [children], including them. They are the future. I get inspired by kids. When we did the launch [at Melbourne Zoo] I made a very clear point that my kids inspire me.’
The benefits of arming children with the knowledge and the determination to do the right thing is evident in today’s current climate. We are constantly hearing tales of kids marching home to their parents and demanding better recycling whilst avoiding palm oil products and refusing balloons at birthday parties. To them it’s simple: we have done the wrong thing, but we have the choice to do the right thing. This power children have to effect real change in society, inspiring older generations and maintaining hope for the future, is something that should be celebrated and encouraged. Similarly, the power of a children’s book to instigate this kind of positive action amongst our younger generations should not be underestimated, and Bouncing Back is indeed one such book.
The Eastern Barred Bandicoot Recovery Team consists of employees and volunteers from Conservation Volunteers Australia, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre, National Trust of Australia, Parks Victoria, Phillip Island Nature Parks, University of Melbourne, Tiverton Property Partnering and Zoos Victoria.
Purchase your copy of Bouncing Back: An Eastern Barred Bandicoot Story from CSIRO Publishing.
Banner image courtesy of JJ Harrison ([email protected]) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.