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Gliding on air: Couple’s joy at silo exposure for endangered squirrel glider

By Vivienne Duck

IT’S not every day you see a squirrel glider flying 90 metres through the air.

The ‘‘little critters’’ might be crossing a river or jumping from tree to tree.

Maybe you’ll only have a split second to make out the black stripe between their eyes, that then runs down their back. Or their big, bushy tail.

And then, in a flash, they’re gone.

But when, or if, you do see a squirrel gliding, it will probably take your breath away.

That’s how incredible it is, according to John and Veronica Groat.

And now everyone who drives past the Rochester silos is able to witness this endangered species in all their glory.

‘‘Allan from Strathallan is now on a giant silo,’’ Veronica said.

‘‘When we first started we had two gliders, Allan and Strathy, aptly named because we are in Strathallan, and now Allan is pictured right in the centre of Rochy on the silos.

‘‘It actually brings me to tears to see him up there.’’

Rochester and region is home to gliders but unfortunately these poor little flying marsupials are endangered.

Enter the Strathallan Glider Sanctuary, where there are eight enclosures housing 26 gliders (including eight joeys — seven females and one male — born this year).

It’s been three years since husband and wife duo John and Veronica picked up their first two squirrel gliders.

‘‘We run the Strathallan Landcare Group,’’ Veronica said.

‘‘At one of our early meetings someone said a little critter was found on their barbed wire fence and it turned out to be a squirrel glider.

‘‘We found out research had been conducted along the Campaspe River starting at Strathallan, where they had found gliders, and we thought that was pretty neat.

‘‘We asked the shire for some money and we were lucky to get the two researchers in to conduct a much smaller study.

‘‘We found out at that point there were gliders also in Rochester at the golf club.’’

To see the glider beautifully captured on the left of the Rochester silos, Veronica said is a ‘‘huge boost’’.

‘‘We are always going around to schools, shows, markets and everything in between to spread the word about these little guys and the incredible species we have in our own backyard,’’ she said.

‘‘So to have it chosen to be in the heart of Rochy is just so incredible.

‘‘And will absolutely help us spread the word about the gliders.’’

The Groats fell in love with the gliders more than five years ago and the pair soon found themselves at the Kyabram Fauna Park.

A woman, Kezia Talbot, was breeding them and asked if John and Veronica were interested in taking on the project.

‘‘We went and had a look at the cages they had at the fauna park, came back and built our own,’’ Veronica said.

‘‘John went and did a welding course at Echuca Neighbourhood House and we had another fellow stay with us.

‘‘We built four and later built four more.’’

It is still not known what the real glider population is in this region, Veronica said.

But the Groats have put up 300 nesting boxes from Rochester to the mouth of the Campaspe River at the Murray.

‘‘We’ve begun monitoring those boxes but we haven’t been able to do the whole lot yet,’’ Veronica said.

‘‘You’re dealing with a couple of volunteers who have got other things they need to do like growing food for these little guys to eat.

‘‘We hope to really get engaged with the monitoring because we need to know what’s out there.

‘‘What we would love to do is to put these little fellas down near the Campaspe.

‘‘It’s called translocation and it’s pretty heavy. There’s nine pages of things that the department wants to know.

‘‘So we’re working through this.’’

After filling out the paperwork the Groats plan to put the gliders back in the wild.

But they admit there’s a fair bit of work to be done before that’s likely to happen. ‘‘When we’ve answered all those questions then we will go to the department, only then,’’ Veronica said.

Gliders eat a heaped tablespoon of sweet potato, carrot, apple, pear, sweet corn, melon, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, eggplant or almonds.

‘‘We chop it up and feed them about 5.30pm,’’ Veronica said. ‘‘They’re used to us now.

‘‘We try to not to get friendly with them because we have to give them back to the bush.’’

The Strathallan group has about 20 members, all sharing a common interest — a love for the environment.

The group meets at noon on the last Sunday of the month at the Strathallan hall: ‘‘The more the merrier,’’ John said.

People who would like to donate to the cause can do so via Strathallan Glider Sanctuary’s account (BSB - 633 000 AC - 161 878 335).