SSAA bursary award funds chital deer research

Chital deer have long been regarded as a pest species in far north Queensland and their expanding ranks heighten the general cause for concern among landowners and the general public. This small to medium-sized animal may have a cute appearance but the reality is the genus has a far murkier side. The chital is reckoned to be one of more than 80 species of non-native vertebrates which have seamlessly established wild populations in Australia, with their presence viewed as one of the key factors contributing to high rates of extinction suffered by native species.

Chital are guilty of causing damage to native vegetation and sensitive ecosystems. The potential competition for grazing resources with cattle and their capacity to act as vectors for disease are at the core of their status as ‘persona non grata’. Add to that their encroachment into urban areas and an increase in deer-vehicle collisions and it’s clear action is needed to curb this inherent menace. And doing his bit to assist in this is Queensland student Matthew Quin whose post-graduate studies at James Cook University in Townsville – which will hopefully earn him a PhD in Environmental Science – are centred on research into restricting the further range expansion of the chital hordes.

And Matthew’s efforts have recently been recognised by the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA) under the organisation’s student bursary scheme, earning him a grant of $2000 to bolster his ongoing studies. The funding will help cover costs associated with non-deferrable university fees and supplying work-related clothing for undertaking examinations in diverse environments and weather conditions.

The SSAA scheme has been in operation for around a decade and the continued grants enterprise offers tertiary students an opportunity to secure part of an annual $10,000 bursary to fund their education and simultaneously promote community awareness of conservation and hunting as part of feral animal control.

Matthew has already received the cash donation which will go a long way to easing his financial burden in testing economic times. “I’m really excited as the money takes the pressure off with fees being covered – it really is a relief,” he said. He can now concentrate on progressing his studies and fieldwork which sometimes mean he can be on the road at short notice. “Traditionally these programs take about three-and-a-half years to run and I’m about 18 months into mine,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll finish up with three or four years quality data.”

The venture has excited Matthew whose earlier analyses were conducted in Victoria. He hails from Benalla so the transition to the Tropics of Queensland has been an eye-opener, though sadly one of the more frequent occurrences is the incidence of road kills involving chital deer and other mammals. “As these species increasingly disperse, they have to cross road networks to achieve what they need,” he said, “and not just deer but kangaroos and reptiles too.”

Now Matthew has built up a network of contacts so if a deer is downed, people will often inform him of the roadside location. At short notice he’s able to scramble into action, track down the carcass and collect tissue samples to process and add to his work, all of which ties into the broader picture of his surveys. The consistent focus is on investigating population demography of chital deer along with dispersal and dietary elements which shape the species’ distribution and future expansion, something he hopes to advance to help in developing management protocols.

Matthew’s main objectives will be to establish the abundance, offspring and mortality rates of chital deer in Queensland’s dry Tropics and following on from this, his aim is to quantify levels of relatedness of chital deer individuals across the dry Tropics and determine the environmental barriers facilitating or inhibiting the species’ dispersal and gene flow.

The third plank of Matthew’s platform is to detail the species richness of plants in the chital deer diet, concentrating on links between individual dietary quality and overall body condition.

Matthew hopes his work will eventually put into context the invasive species population growth and spread as well as providing implications for global management of said species, especially those introduced and established from small initial populations. All collated data from his project should bolster evidence-based mitigation strategies and allow government agencies, environmental groups and land managers to better foresee invasive species growth rates, which will enable more cost-effective and resource-efficient limitation approaches.

Matthew seems to have found the perfect educational environment to further his research in the Queensland Tropics and is constantly on the lookout for more information from outside sources. If you think you could be of assistance, he can be reached by email at [email protected]. And for those students who’d like to follow his lead and feel their studies would merit a cash contribution from the SSAA bursary scheme, send us a email for full details.

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