Dark twist hidden in impossible Captcha internet test

Captcha tests are used by websites to determine users are human and not a bot trying to create a fake account. Challenges usually include clicking on all of the zebra crossings or traffic lights.

But one test, which has been shared widely online has a darker side.

“Select all the squares with greater gliders,” the caption above an image of a gridded hillside reads.

Left - A greater glider in a tree. Right - The mock greater glider Captcha test
A mock Captcha test (right) challenges users to locate all of the greater gliders (left). Source: Kinglake Friends of the Forest

Sadly, finding the hidden greater gliders in this case though will prove impossible. That’s because all of the trees which the animals likely called home have been logged.

Where was the Captcha image taken?

The image is actually a mock reCaptcha test, created by Victorian conservation group Kinglake Friends of the Forest (KFF) in October.

It incorporates a 2021 photo of Ballantynes Saddle near the Mount Baw Baw ski fields, which was logged, despite it likely being home to endangered greater gliders, powerful owls, sooty owls and smokey mice.

A Google Map showing logged sections of Ballantyne Saddle.
The Captcha image was taken at a logging coup near Mount Baw Baw. Source: CNES / Airbus / Maxar / Google Maps

KFF president Sue McKinnon said the image highlights the damage state-owned timber operator VicForests has done to the last refuges of the state’s wildlife.

She told Yahoo News Australia 50 to 60 years of logging has led to a “mosaic of logged forest” and conservationists are trying to protect the remaining remnants of habitat from being logged.

“It’s now a race to find greater gliders before VicForests can log their habitat,” she said.

State logging agency pays millions in court costs

VicForests told Yahoo News Australia it complies with Victoria’s “timber harvesting and biodiversity requirements”.

Despite it having a Greater Glider Conservation Strategy, it has been defeated in a string of legal cases initiated by environment groups concerned that state regulations aren’t doing enough to protect wildlife.

Since January 2021 VicForests been prevented by the court on five separate occasions from logging greater glider habitat. Injunctions successfully initiated by community conservation groups include:

  • January 2021, Wildlife of the Central Highlands

  • May 2021 Environment East Gippsland

  • August 2021 Friends of Alberton West

  • November 2021 Kinglake Friends of the Forest

  • May 2022 Gippsland Environment Group

“VicForests is abiding by court orders and relevant forestry regulations and has put in place additional species protections as part of its Greater Glider Conservation Strategy,” a VicForests spokesperson said.

A forest logged by VicForests in Toolangi
Conservationist's fear the Victoria government's commitment to end native forest logging by 2030 won't save greater gliders. Source: Kinglake Friends of the Forest

Earlier this month VicForests confirmed during the financial year 2020-21, its legal costs amounted to $4.8 million.

This week it was ordered by the court to pay a further $1.65 million. That payment was to settle costs from legal action brought by Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum.

Fear greater gliders edging closer to extinction

While greater gliders resemble koalas, they are more selective in their housing requirements and need to nest inside trees to raise their young.

In July, they were upgraded from vulnerable to endangered under the federal government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, with habitat loss the main driver of their demise.

In the United States, a change in protection status would likely result in greater protections, but not in Australia, because state logging operators are largely exempt from federal government control.

While state Labor has promised to halt native forest logging by 2030, critics of the policy fear greater gliders will be driven closer to extinction by this time.

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