Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Lucky Cairns three catch Attenborough Onychophora slime fever

Charlotte, Mandy and Marty with living legend, Sir David Attenborough in Cairns yesterday afternoon.

"It was only for about ten minutes, but we got to chat with a real legend," Marty told CairnsBlog. "It's so very easy to think of him as our hero. He's a very, very special person."
Three lucky Cairns folk spent a few precious minutes with the renown naturalist Sir David Attenborough, before he left Cairns yesterday afternoon.
"Charlotte was so over-joyed," Marty said. "However, she did all the detective work to find out where Sir David was."
Sir David left Cairns en route to Antarctica, as he pieces together his new special called Earth's First Animals.
83-year-old David Attenborough has been in Far North Queensland since Friday, filming a sequence on the rare Onychophora velvet worm, that are found around the unusual Black Mountain region, 15 minutes south of Cookown.
The Onychophora measures from half a centimeter, up to 20 centimeters long. They are ambush predators, hunting only by night and are able to capture animals at least their own size, using their slime-secreting to capture and digest.
Velvet worms are close relatives of the Arthropoda and Tardigrada, which makes them of significant palaeontological interest.
The Onychophora worm's home in North Queensland, is the amazing Black Mountain area, that is home to distinctive hard granite hollow boulders. They were originally formed out of volcanic magma about 250 million years ago, long before Undara's volcanoes, 280 kilometers West of Cairns.
Black Mountain, known as Kalkajaka National Park, is a 600 hectare protected area under the Nature Conservation Act. The Department of Environment and Resource Management describes the area:-

  • Black Mountain National Park contains an imposing mountain range of massive granite boulders. These formidable boulders, some the size of houses, stack precariously on one another — appearing to defy both gravity and logic.

    The softer land surfaces above the solidified magma eroded away over time, leaving the magma's fractured top to be exposed as a mountain of grey granite boulders blackened by a film of microscopic blue-green algae growing on the exposed surfaces. Colder rains falling on the dark, heated granite boulders causes the boulders to progressively fracture, break, and slowly disintegrate, sometimes explosively.

Black Mountain's unique environment is the world's only habitat for at least three rare animals. The Black Mountain boulderfrog or rock haunting frog; the Black Mountain skink; and the Black Mountain gecko, all are unique to this site. This makes the area one of Australia's most restricted habitats for endemic fauna.

The area is special to the Aboriginal Kuku Nyungkal people, known as Kalkajaka, or place of spear. It holds much mythological significance. The Kambi, a large rock with a cave where flying-foxes are found; Julbanu, a big grey kangaroo-shaped rock looking toward Cooktown; Birmba, a stone facing toward Helenvale where sulphur-crested cockatoos are seen; and a taboo place called Yirrmbal near the foot of the range, are all legends of the famous rocks.

I've visited Cooktown many times over the years and have heard the tales from early European history. Stories are that horses, cattle and even people have disappeared into the rocks, never to be seen again.

Attenborough's Australian journey started two weeks ago in South Australia's Flinders Ranges.

Even though Charlotte, Mandy and Marty didn't appear in Attenborough's documentary, they certainly feel like film stars.

"It was a very special moment, and just chatting and being in his presence, was amazing," Marty said.

As a footnote, here's Attenborough's take on the global warming debate. He was long unsure about the causes of the Earth's warming and in his doco, The Truth About Climate Change, he sheds doubt and explains what convinced him.

"Climate models based on purely natural processes such as solar activity and volcanic eruptions fail to explain the observed change in Earth's climate in the latter part of the 20th century," he says. "Models factoring in the human impact, that is, the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, depict the transpired warming accurately."

...and the other side of the debate...

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