Mala released at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary/Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Image Credit: W. Lawler

Emergency translocation success – saving the Mala

  • BY Shannon Verhagen |
  • November 24, 2017

With less than 400 left on the mainland, an emergency translocation has given hope in the survival of one of Australia’s most endangered mammals – the Mala.

AN EMERGENCY translocation to move Mala (Lagorchestes hirsutus) – one of Australia’s most endangered mammals – has been a success, providing hope for the near-extinct wallabies.

The emergency measure comes after a wildfire swept through Watarrka National Park, killing 90 per cent of one of the last remaining populations – from 200 to an estimated 20 – and leaving them exposed to birds of prey.

The joint effort between the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Northern Territory government, and Warlpiri-Luritja traditional owners aimed to capture the remaining animals and move them to the AWC’s Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary.

Chief executive Atticus Fleming says the team spent the past four weeks working around the clock to establish a 150ha feral-predator free area within the sanctuary which the Mala could be translocated to.

They then set to work over two nights in Watarrka, to trap as many Mala as possible.

“We translocated eight mala, and four of those were female – all of which had pouch young – so that’s very hopeful,” Atticus explains.

“We suspect there are still four or five left, so we are developing plans with the NT government to revisit and translocate those animals before Christmas.”

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Mala (Rufous Hare-wallaby) translocated to Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary/Australian Wildlife Conservancy. (Image Credit: W. Lawler)

Almost extinct – a tale all too familiar

Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world – with 30 extinct – and another eight or nine species including the Mala that can only survive in cat-free areas,” Atticus explains.

Once abundant throughout the semi-arid regions of the continent, Mala, or rufous hare-wallabies, were considered extinct in the wild in 1991, and today, less than 400 remain across a handful of semi-wild populations.

However, several were captured from the last wild population in the NT’s Tanami Desert for breeding, some of which were in the Watarrka population.

“Watarrka housed a disproportionately large amount of genetic diversity, so it was really important to save those animals,” Atticus says.

And evidenced by camera footage in Newhaven, the eight translocated wallabies have settled in nicely to their new environment.

“We were lucky that 44mm of rain fell within 24hrs of the second day of the translocation, so the Mala have some green pick, and we can see them using a lot of the habitat,” Atticus explains.

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Australian Wildlife Conservancy's Wildlife Ecologist Keith Bellchambers releases Mala with sanctuary staff, Newhaven Warlpiri Rangers and family/ Australian Wildlife Conservancy.(Image Credit: W. Lawler)

Game changer

The translocation is just the beginning, with the AWC developing big plans to bring the Mala’s – and several other species’ – populations up to much more robust levels.

“This is really just the first stage – within the next 12 months we are aiming to establish a 9450ha feral-free area at Newhaven, which will be the largest in the country,” Atticus says.

“And from there, we aim to eventually expand that area to 70,000ha, which would hopefully bring the Mala population to 18,000 – and that’s a conservative estimate.”

“It’s transforming the survival prospects for Mala and at least six other threatened mammals. So it’s a big project, and the Mala are blazing a trail for the other endangered species.”

If you would like to donate to help save Australia’s endangered animals, visit https://support.australianwildlife.org/

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Newhaven Warlpiri Ranger Duncan Jungala Gallagher and Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary Manager Josef Schofield walk the fenceline. (Image Credit: W . Lawler)

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