When Nature becomes pesky
  |  First Published: February 2004

LAST month we looked at some of the more common pests you associate with camping. Some were dangerous while others were simply annoying.

This month we will check out a few of the more obscure creatures that could pose a threat to our wellbeing, and at some you wouldn’t even expect to be a nuisance. Even the more cuddly creatures of the Aussie bush can be downright cantankerous at times.

To start off we will check out some of the more repugnant creatures we might encounter .

Leeches: No, I’m not talking about those bloodsucking creatures with little idea of the real world who meet in Canberra from time to time. Rather, these small parasites that sit in moist places waiting for a victim to come within range so they can latch on and get a free meal, leaving a bloody mess in their wake.

Leeches pose more of a nuisance than a danger; they inhabit areas where there is leaf litter and moisture, particularly along walking tracks and in heavily forested areas. You won’t even know you have one until there is a slight itch, or you actually se it.

Mostly they are small, about the size of a match, but they will bloat up to 10 times their size after a good feed of your blood and then will drop off and be on their way. This is where the fun starts because they release an anticoagulant that stops your blood from clotting, so the bite could bleed for up to three days. Then it will itch and when you scratch it, the wound will bleed again. There are ways to prevent them from getting at you and there are ways of removing ones you find.

Firstly, don’t grab them and pull them off as they squeeze put more anticoagulant into the wound. One way is to keep a little salt and sprinkle it onto the leech and it will let go. Then there is the cigarette lighter treatment – they let go very quickly but you could burn yourself. This method is not advised if the leech is in the groin region, a favourite place for them to attach!

A small container of methylated spirits or, if you are willing to part with it, alcoholic spirits such as whisky or the like, will also make them let go quickly.

Prevention is better than cure and socks tucked into long pants and boots, all liberally sprayed with insect repellent, will keep them at bay. Leeches will at times get you when you brush through vegetation but there is not a lot you can do about this.

Ticks: These can be very nasty creatures. There is not a lot you can do to avoid them, apart from keeping out of long grass, but if you are fishing the river banks or travelling the bush, this can be unavoidable.

To remove a tick, insect repellent, lighter fluid, metho or kerosene will do the job and it should then brush off. If not, remove it with tweezers but try not to squeeze the tick.

Some people will have allergic reactions so apply a cold compress to the bite and monitor the patient. For most people it will just leave an itchy mark.


Now we move into the fur, feather and other categories where the creatures might look friendly enough, but looks can deceive.

Rats: It is said that if you live in a city you are never more than five metres from a rat at any time. If you are in the middle of a camping area with short grass for at least 100 metres in all directions, you might consider yourself safe. Wrong!

I now pack a rat trap or two every time I go camping, or even when staying in a cabin, unless it is in a national park. So far I have nailed rats within the first two hours of my stay in every caravan park and cabin I have stayed in over the past three years and my best count is eight in the first day and the fewest is three. Sounds pretty scary but rats love the leftovers from campers and there is always plenty of bush to give them cover.

We were the only campers in one park and, as night fell, they came 100 metres across the grass to our tent and crawled under the floor. It can be fun playing stomp on a fast-moving lump under the tarp after a few beers. But during the night they chew your belongings and get into the food, even in the cleanest camp.

Traps are the way to go as poisons kill other wildlife. Also report your finds to the park management so they can implement control measures. Keep your camp clean to minimise to attraction for rats – but this does not always keep them away.

Birds: These come in a multitude of varieties and they all have their own traits. The good old scrub turkey of Queensland will drop onto your caravan roof and do a tap dance before dawn. The noisy miner will steal food off your table. Seagulls will pinch your chips and ibis will sift through your garbage if you haven’t got it all covered and secure.

Then there was the Kookaburra I fed a few pieces of sausage to who decided a steak off the barbecue was much more to his liking. Parrots are very friendly and will eat out of your hand at many destinations, but beware the sulphur-crested cockatoo – these guys can almost remove your finger if they are in the right frame of mind. It’s really up to you whether you encourage birds or not; some people consider semi-domesticated birds add to the charm of an area, while others think they’re just freeloaders and should go out into the bush to get a feed

Bats are not commonly encountered but if you happen to find one that is injured, don’t touch it and call an animal care organization. Fruit bats can carry the lyssivirus, which can be deadly to humans.

Another problem fruit bats can pose is the noise and mess they make when feeding, particularly in fig trees. Don’t set up camp under a Moreton Bay fig when the fruit is ripe – all night long, figs will drop onto your tent or van and the noise of the bats fighting will drive you mad. Then there is the problem of removing bat poo from your tent and belongings. This stuff is made not to come off. Big fig trees also are quite brittle and large limbs can fall off in a storm, so give them a miss.

Kangaroos: Soft and cuddly? Hardly! Kangaroos are hard as nails and can be very nasty creatures, particularly if you have some food they want and you won’t give it to them. Small children and even adults can be knocked to the ground by a large roo. Many places have kangaroos and most people feed them, often against regulations.

If you do feed them, make sure you supervise the children and never hold the food above your head if you have an over-aggressive roo trying to get the food. It will kick and scratch you to try and get it. If you or a child are caught in this situation, throw the food on the ground and the roo will often break away and go for it.

It is best not to let roos too close. Try throwing the food to them from behind some form of protection and if they get aggressive, as the larger males often do, give them the food and move away and don’t feed them again and they should keep their distance.

Wombats: In some places these pocket tanks are quite numerous and are happy to mix it with the campers. But be warned – they bite and can bulldoze and claw their way into a tent in their hunt for a free feed.

Wombats also have a nasty habit of marking their territory by doing their business on any raised object, so if you have clothes, cushions, shoes, or any manner of things outside the tent, don’t be surprised if you find a wombat poo on it the next morning.

Possums are other creatures that don’t mind rummaging through the rubbish or an esky with an unsecured lid. They will take all sorts of items and carry them up into the trees, just for fun.

If you camp in the bush, particularly in the cooler months, and have a fire under a big old gum tree, it is not uncommon for the odd possum to sit in the branches above and take in the warmth of the fire, particularly later in the evening when there is less smoke.

Don’t be surprised if you find it starts raining, even when the sky is full of stars. Possums, like bats and wombats, don’t mind relieving themselves in the presence of humans and after being pooped on by bats and wombats and piddled on by possums, you learn where you should and shouldn’t set up camp.

Goannas: Visually challenged in most cases, these big lizards can taste the air with that flicking tongue and find feed at great distances. Keep the camp clean and don’t leave any food scraps about, chiefly meat, as this will attract goannas from a great distance.

If one does wonder into camp, stomp on the ground from a safe distance and it should move on. Don’t feed them as they will keep coming back.

Goannas have sharp teeth and large, sharp claws they use for climbing trees. If you startle one and it starts to run towards you, particularly if you are in an open area, lie down. This will take some courage because it is difficult to lie down with a metre-and-a-half of lizard running at you. This will generally confuse the creature – after all it, was only looking for a tree to run up, as is their habit when frightened. You are the tallest thing in the area and their eyes aren’t the best, so if the tree (you) disappears, it will look elsewhere for something to climb.

If you do have the misfortune of being clawed or bitten, and it does happen, clean the wound with antiseptic and bandage it.

Last year at a North Coast fish-cleaning table, a group of us gathered cleaning the catch when a big old goanna strolled in for a feed. One of the locals said, ‘Stand still and it will go past’ and, with that, the goanna clamped straight onto one bloke’s toe and left a nasty gash. Although cleaned up with antiseptic, the wound still got infected and took ages to heal, so be careful around goannas.

This is a good place for kids to stand to feed kangaroos. Up high and throw the food down to the roos or at an arms length. They may look soft but they can get nasty.

This scruffy wombat had already ransacked the camp and left its calling card on a folded tarp before heading back to its burrow for a sleep.

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