• Venessa Merrin

AWC Taking Urgent Action To Save The Kangaroo Island Dunnart

Recent bushfires on Kangaroo Island have been catastrophic for wildlife, particularly for species like the critically endangered Kangaroo Island Dunnart (Sminthopsis aitkeni). AWC is partnering with Kangaroo Island Land For Wildlife and local landholders to prevent this unique mammal from going extinct.

Pat Hodgens of Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife works with local private landholders to conserve biodiversity. AWC is proud to partner with this not-for-profit organisation to help save the critically endangered Kangaroo Island Dunnart from extinction as a result of the recent bushfires. © Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife

The Kangaroo Island (KI) Dunnart, a small insectivorous marsupial weighing up to 25g, is found nowhere else on earth. Prior to the recent catastrophic bushfires, which decimated the island’s wild areas, the KI Dunnart was listed as endangered (EPBC) and critically endangered (IUCN Red list).

The fires have severely impacted the KI Dunnart population, which, prior to the fires numbered only 500 individuals.

AWC, together with our partners Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, and local landholders, are in a race against the clock to save any surviving KI Dunnarts before it is too late.

Kangaroo Island has suffered extensive fire damage and catastrophic loss of habitat. © AWC

In a bid to determine the extent of the losses suffered by the KI Dunnart population, AWC has already deployed camera traps and survey apparatus.

This vital equipment replaces what has been damaged in the fires and will assist with post-fire monitoring of the remaining KI Dunnart population.

Camera traps have captured evidence of surviving KI Dunnarts on Kangaroo Island. © Kangaroo Island Land For Wildlife

Camera traps have already identified 4 KI Dunnarts that have survived the fires. We are hopeful that more will be detected as our collaborative survey work continues.

To secure the survival of this critically important population of KI Dunnarts, we are partnering with Kangaroo Island Land For Wildlife (run by Pat Hodgens and Heidi Groffen) and local land holders (Jamie, Lib and Andy Doube), to mobilise materials and personnel to immediately construct a fence around a small patch of remaining unburnt Dunnart refugia.

Initially we will construct a 14 hectare safe-haven to secure the surviving Dunnart population from feral predators. Work will then commence on building a larger fenced area of around 371 hectares to secure their long-term future and which will also support populations of endangered Southern Brown Bandicoots and Southern Emu Wrens.

Heidi Groffen of Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife installs a camera trap to detect and monitor the KI Dunnart and other threatened species. © Kangaroo Island Land For Wildlife

The restoration of the threatened wildlife impacted by the bushfires on Kangaroo Island involves significant logistical challenges, which are further compounded by the threat of feral predators (cats).

Previous AWC research has demonstrated the lethal hunting effectiveness of feral cats within fire affected areas, in some cases recording them travelling more than 170km to hunt for small to medium-sized mammals hiding along fire scars.

Without shelter to hide in, or weakened by injury or lack of food, the surviving mammals are extremely vulnerable to predation and starvation. Urgent intervention is therefore essential if we are to save species on Kangaroo Island from going extinct. AWC’s skilled field team are also assisting with feral predator control to supress cat numbers whilst the fence is constructed.

The road to recovery for Kangaroo Island and its precious species will be long-term and highly collaborative. The situation continues to be highly dynamic, with fires still bringing in some parts of the island. AWC is committed to working with other stakeholders to help secure the future of one of the Kangaroo Island Dunnart which may now be Australia’s most endangered mammal.

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