It was a hopping affair at Mallee Cliffs National Park in western NSW, when 54 Woylies (Brush-tailed Bettongs) completed a cross-border journey for a special reintroduction to NSW, after going extinct in the state by the late 1800’s. Nationally listed as critically endangered, the small kangaroo-relatives are now part of one of Australia’s largest rewilding projects.
Following 12 months of careful planning, Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) in partnership with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, as part of the Saving our Species program successfully released 24 female and 30 male bettongs at Mallee Cliffs National Park in September last year. The animals were captured at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in WA and flown on a special charter flight to Mallee Cliffs for release. The translocation is part of a large-scale partnership reintroduction project at Mallee Cliffs National Park where 10 locally-extinct mammal species will eventually be reintroduced and already include Bilbies, Numbats and Greater Stick-nest Rats.
Upon arrival, NSW’s newest nocturnal residents underwent health checks and 10 were fitted with VHF collars while another 10 were fitted with VHF and GPS collars before being released into a 9,500-hectare feral predator-free fenced area within the national park. The collars will monitor their survival, dispersal and habitat use. Once released, they joined 16 fellow Woylies (10 females and 6 males) which were released in the initial stage of the reintroduction in late August from AWC’s Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary in south-west NSW. This brings the total number of Woylies reintroduced at Mallee Cliffs this year to 70 individuals.
Dr. Laurence Berry, AWC Senior Wildlife Ecologist, said the Woylies were warmly welcomed by the AWC team who were thrilled to see the native species bouncing around the mallee eucalypts in their former range.
“The team here at Mallee Cliffs National Park is excited to see Woylies back in their former range in south west NSW for the time in over 100 years,” Dr. Berry said. “This historic reintroduction will safeguard the future of the threatened species by establishing a new population and boosting genetic diversity.”
“As eco-system engineers, Woylies turn over up to six tons of soil annually, distributing spores and seeds in the process and we also look forward to seeing how that positively impacts the local landscape and ecosystem.”
Ecologists at Mallee Cliffs National Park will closely monitor the population of Woylies to ensure a successful integration into the sanctuary. VHF transmitter tracking collars and camera traps will be used to determine survival rates and provide information on dispersal and habitat use following release.
Known by their widely adopted Noongar name, ‘Woylies’ are a small potoroid endemic to Australia. The species was once widespread in arid and semi-arid parts of Australia but has been exterminated from most of its historic range for over 150 years. In the wild, they face multiple threats including predation by feral cats and foxes, competition from introduced herbivores, changed fire regimes and other changes in land-use. Remnant populations persisted in south-west Western Australia however those populations have declined by around 90% in the last two decades. The species’ total population in the wild is now fewer than 15,000. The species thought to have disappeared from NSW by the late 1800’s.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy protects almost 10 percent of the world’s remaining Woylie population within feral predator-proof fenced areas at Karakamia Wildlife Sanctuary and Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in WA, Yookamurra Wildlife Sanctuary in SA, Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in the NT and now Mallee Cliffs National Park in NSW.
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