They’re back! Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), in partnership with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Alice Springs Desert Park have returned locally extinct Red-tailed Phascogales to Mallee Cliffs National Park in western New South Wales this week. The return of these tree-dwelling marsupials to the state, after an absence of more than a century, marks an exciting new milestone for the partnership and conservation in NSW.
A total of 60 individuals, were flown over 1,400km from a captive breeding program at the Alice Springs Desert Park (NT) and released at night into nest boxes in the 9,570-ha (around 23,650 acres) fenced feral predator-free refuge at Mallee Cliffs on 15 November. The fenced area is the largest of its kind on mainland Australia.
Up to 20 of the individuals have been collared to monitor their movements and survival rate. Due to their very small size, light weight (<2g) transmitters will be used, with these collars to be removed in just a few weeks.
AWC’s Chief Science Officer, Dr John Kanowski, said the data collected from the collars will be invaluable.
“Although the collars will only be on the animals for a few weeks, the data gathered will show us what vegetation they favour for shelter, where they go, and their rate of survival,” Kanowski said.
In 2019, Alice Springs Desert Park, in collaboration with AWC, established a captive breeding program for Red-tailed Phascogales. The captive population was founded by 21 animals, sourced by AWC ecologists from 4 different sites in Western Australia’s wheatbelt region. The Phascogales have been breeding successfully over the past two and a half years and the newly introduced animals to Mallee Cliffs are the offspring from this program.
Acting Director of the Alice Springs Desert Park, Estelle Marshall, said working with Australian Wildlife Conservancy has allowed the Park to build a stronger relationship with external conservation partners.
“The project has allowed our current zoology staff the opportunity be involved in a captive breed and release program.
“The Desert Park mammal team has provided husbandry throughout the program, and it will be an excellent reward to see the population increase. This has been another successful captive breeding program the Desert Park has been involved in and we look forward to working with AWC in the future,” Estelle said.
Known as Bulku pronounced “bull-koo” in the local Barkindji language, Red-tailed Phascogales previously occurred across much of Australia. It is a species which has declined substantially in its range, from a distribution that once spanned the semi-arid zone across and into the temperate zone. Populations are now restricted to just the wheatbelt of Western Australia.
The species is the fifth to be restored to Mallee Cliffs National Park since the fenced area was declared predator-free in March 2020 as part of an innovative and ambitious partnership between AWC and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
AWC plans to return at least 10 nationally threatened and locally extinct mammals to the national park, including Western Quoll, the Western Barred Bandicoot, the Burrowing Bettong, the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby and Mitchell’s Hopping Mouse. Bilbies, Numbats and Greater Stick-nest Rats have already been restored to the site.
“The return of Red-tailed Phascogale to Mallee Cliffs represents an important step in the long-term conservation of the species. By exposing individuals to different environmental conditions within its former range we are helping to maintain the adaptive and evolutionary potential of the species which may help to increase its resilience of ongoing climate change” said Dr Laurence Berry, Senior Wildlife Ecologist at Mallee Cliffs National Park.
AWC carries out Australia’s largest and most ambitious wildlife reintroduction program, re-establishing populations of threatened wildlife across an extensive network of feral predator-free fenced areas. This latest reintroduction is another important step towards restoring locally extinct mammals to NSW.
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