She didn’t need much. While I was busy with my own small worries, my own daily life, this last two years, she was just quietly getting on with her own.
I didn’t know it, but she was less than a kilometre from where I live, maybe a lot closer than that. For there are squirrel gliders living at the end of my street in the Deagon Wetlands. And I don’t live in some sort of rural paradise, way out in the bush. I live in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, not 14 km from the CBD. In one of its oldest suburbs: Sandgate, the first seaside resort frequented by the early settlers.
Sometime, when I was still making my daily commute to the city, in the winter of 2014, she was born. How many days did she snugly cling, eyes tight shut, a pink hairless grape, deep in her mother’s pouch? While her mother bounded effortlessly up those eucalypts fringing Third Lagoon to find the sugary lerps, or glided from tree to tree, to feast on the sweet-scented paperbark flowers of the Deagon Wetlands?
By the springtime of 2014, I was caught up in the care of the elderly, then the mourning for loved ones, now gone. I flew to Adelaide to attend a funeral. She stayed living quietly in the bushland fragments of Sandgate and Brighton. At night she was learning how to glide, where to find food, and what dangers to look out for. Daytime would find her curled up in a tree hollow, or nest box, with her family. A tangled swirl of squirrel gliders, all grey fluff and black wispy tails. It was hard to see where one ended, and the other began.
The autumn of 2015 saw me working at home – I’d taken a year off from my ‘real’ job – trying to write a book. All those days and nights I spent in my little room, typing, – what was she doing? Now an adult, was she roaming to find her own place in the world? Did she manage to cross the great gashes in the landscape – the wide freeways that indiscriminately gouge lines though built-up areas, forested areas, parklands and wetlands? Or did she stake out a claim in the small urban forest patch where she was raised? Squirrel gliders can glide between scattered trees, or even just poles, to make their way across the countryside. They don’t need to come down to the ground (like koalas often do) which means that they are less susceptible to attacks by dogs, cats or foxes. By gliding, they can cross busy roads that are a deadly peril to other wild animals.
She didn’t need much. Just a line of trees (or poles), or a rope bridge, to allow her to move across the roads and houses, between the fragments of forest.
Last summer saw more temperature records broken, and I found it hard to keep working at home on the steamiest days. I sought the cool of air-conditioned libraries as a refuge. The paperbarks were in almost continuous, bountiful bloom, for months. Where was she then? Perhaps in a hollow that was cool enough? Did she spend her nights guzzling nectar, and dozed blissfully, half-tipsy, during the day? By autumn she had found a mate. By winter there was new life swelling in her own pouch.
So now we finally meet, after all this time. Today she was found dead on a pathway around the back of Third Lagoon. Fresh blood on her nose and mouth. I don’t know how she died.
I can cup her lithe, slender body in one of my hands. Her fur is grey and black, and is incredibly soft. A narrow strip of creamy fur trims the edge of her gliding membrane. Her delicate paws are clenched shut in tiny fists. The little one died with her, and is still in her pouch – small, naked, and pink. His eyes are covered by translucent blue lids.
She didn’t need much. A hollow or nest box to sleep in. Flowers and insects to eat. A forest with trees, and some linkages across the landscape, to cross the roads, and to avoid the open areas, the sprawling built environment, the big ugly new houses that leave no room for gardens.
Her kin are still here, quietly getting on with their lives. A recent study counted over 30 squirrel gliders in Third Lagoon Reserve and the Deagon Wetlands. Wedged in between the houses of Sandgate and Brighton, Deagon and Bracken Ridge.
They don’t need much. They have survived in Brisbane for so long now, while in many other parts of Australia their species is sliding towards extinction. Meanwhile, our houses keep getting bigger, the freeways keep getting wider, backyards disappear and the bushland remnants shrink. The survival of squirrel gliders in suburban Brisbane becomes more tenuous each day.
But surely we can do just the little that is needed, to help the gliders quietly live on here, for many years to come? So that future Brisbanites can still proudly say: ‘I have gliders living at the end of my street!’.
To find out more about the squirrel gliders of northern Brisbane, and how you can help, check out The Glider Alliance on facebook.
I guessed the age of the glider by her tooth wear as described in this husbandry guide (click to download guide). Thanks to Melissa Cooper for the tip.
Hope they survive. They are such sweet little creatures.
Absolutely. They are exquisite, yet so few Australians even know they exist!
Thanks for the lovely story with such a sad ending.
We still had bandicoots in West End in the early 1990s and bearded dragons into the 2000s – no chance now – pools, paving, asphalt, tall fences with no gaps underneath, and more car parking spaces, denser housing on tiny blocks.
Though I have managed to raise 50 different species of butterflies on a 405sq m block – so you can still do some things with nature.
Wow Helen, you are a bl**dy marvel! Turning around the biodiversity loss of West End single-handedly. Thankyou for being (and reading my post ).
I keep meaning to look up the dates of the next excursions you’ll be leading, but I’ve just been way too busy (which is sort of good, because it means I’m not starving yet!). Cheers, Paula
Great read loved it.
Thanks Sharon 🙂
Thank you Paula. Here’s hoping those of us planting to support local habitat succeed in supporting local wildlife. We have such beauty around us here, yet so few aware and actively protecting what’s left.
Hi Susannah, thanks for reading! And thankyou too for being involved in habitat restoration, it is such a worthwhile and rewarding activity . Cheers, Paula
Wow, that is a beautiful piece of writing. Brought tears! We had squirrel gliders here on our property at Camp Mountain but we have not seen them now for a few years. So sad. They are beautiful creatures.
Thanks Cathy! I’d like to think your gliders are still there at Camp Mountain, fingers crossed. Perhaps you might get sugar gliders too? Cheers, Paula
This story was so poignant Paula…I often wonder when and iff big business and or governments are ever going to open their eyes to what’s happening. Seems the bottom line is increasing dollars, not life in all its wonderful diversity.
Thankyou Sue, I couldn’t agree more. A lot of us have been duped into thinking that the only things of value in this world have some sort of monetary or utilitarian value. But the best things in life are free! They just don’t have big marketing budgets or media moguls behind them, exactly for that reason. Cheers, Paula
Made me cry Paula. Such a sweet little creature and such a loss.
Thanks Jan 🙂
Thankyou so much Kath. We have a had a captive breeding program here in northern Victoria for the past 12 months or so. We are learning so much. Your words so touching and informed give us a real insight into the species – so important to share knowledge.
Hi Veronica, the first squirrel glider I ever saw was many years ago in northern Victoria. I was helping to radiotrack sugar and squirrel gliders in Chiltern State Forest – a formative experience for a budding ecology student! So it’s great to hear of your efforts to conserve these beautiful critters in your part of the world.
A sad story beautifully written Paula. It brought tears to my eyes. I love how you wove your own emotional journey along with the sugar glider’s. Through telling the experience in unison, our shared existence is made visible. Lovely writing.
Thankyou again Gail :). Yes I would like to heighten our awareness of all of those other lives playing out all around us, every day. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own little world. Of course this awareness can extend to other people, and people in other countries, and those less fortunate than us. But my own small quest is to try to raise that awareness about the paralell lives of our own local wildlife. Thankyou for your continued support and encouragement! Cheers, Paula
I drove along the Deagon deviation this week, and noticed how many trees are being cut down to widen it. It’s a tragedy for the wildlife, and very sad for all of us.
Hi Marion, Yes we often walk or cycle in that area, and the recent loss of trees makes me feel ill every time I go there now. The world looks different when you’re aware of the critters that live in a particular patch of bush (like the Deagon Wetlands), and need the trees, and the links in the landscape, to survive. Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers, Paula
I discovered your website about a week ago, and since then I have found myself coming back again and again to read, take inspiration and learn new things. I cannot tell you how amazing your work is, how important it is. This one piece about the squirrel glider is beautiful – yet so sad. I have been thinking a lot recently about the need for wildlife corridors. Being from nearby NZ, I know that we have many species that could benefit from a corridor in which they could feed and move from place to place. Too many farms, cities, paved areas and too little native really does make an impact on the lives of every little thing.
You are inspiring me to look ever more closely at the world in which I live – I am currently based in Colorado and I have been peering at the summertime alpine environments. I might even start a nature journal!
I cannot wait to learn more from you, and I hope I can reciprocate this in some way – although I am not as well informed as you, I love to focus on the similar theme of our relationship with nature, and put these stories alongside my photography. Also, I think you might like this one website I found last week – its called http://natureinstitute.org/ and it has some awesome articles and a section on the Goethean approach to nature studies – a kind of holistic approach.
Many best wishes
Zoe Eccles – http://www.life-gazing.com
Hi Zoe, thanks for your generous praise about Paperbark Writer – I’m glad you’ve found so much of interest and inspiration here. Regarding linkages and revegetation – yes we could do so much more to reconnect the landscape, and this is certainly so in NZ as well as Australia. But I think many people just see a cleared landscape as ‘normal’, or even the most beautiful type of landscape, and perhaps don’t understand what it means for the native biota. That’s a preconception that I’d like to challenge through art and story.
You have a fascinating website and your photos are stunning – well done :). I had stumbled across the nature institute before, and they are taking an interesting approach. You might also like the work of Andreas Weber if you haven’t discovered him yet. I read his book Biology of Wonder early this year (http://www.newsociety.com/Books/B/The-Biology-of-Wonder ) and was intrigued by many of his ideas. I’d like to post a review on this website but I’m still ruminating on it!