Gilbert’s potoroo update

By Karen McGhee 4 December 2015
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The critically endangered Gilbert’s potoroo to join ‘conservation hit list’ after WA fires.

GILBERT’S POTOROO – the world’s most endangered marsupial –is set to be added to a national ‘conservation hit list’ after the last-known natural population of the species was reduced by two-thirds during fires that tore across Western Australia’s south coast last month.

In a determined effort to arrest Australia’s awful rate of mammal extinctions – the world’s worst – the federal office of the Threatened Species Commissioner launched its ‘20/20’ program earlier this year, aimed at ensuring the survival by 2020 of 20 mammals presently at dire risk of extinction.

The first 12 were named in July and scientific assessments have since been continuing to identify the final eight species most worthy of the added funding support that should follow inclusion on the list.

WA’s recent fires now seem to have ensured that one of those eight will be the potoroo. WA Department of Parks and Wildlife senior research scientist Dr Tony Friend has been working to rescue the potoroo since 1999. The species was rediscovered in 1994 at Two Peoples Bay, on WA’s south coast, after spending a century on the world’s extinct mammal list.

Tony Friend Two Peoples Bay

Dr Tony Friend surveys the damage and searches for surviving potoroos at Two People’s Bay Nature Reserve, WA. Credit: Tim Button, Parks and Wildlife.

Only five survivors

Potoroo habitat in the reserve that protected the species’ last-known natural population was almost completely wiped out by the recent fires. And surveys during the past fortnight by Tony and his team have only been able to confirm that five adults (out of a population of 15 to 20) of this exceptionally rare species survived at the site. Previous reports had optimistically forecast that as many as seven may have survived.

Fortunately, there may be more than 40 more adults at two ‘ark’ populations of the species established by Tony’s team near Albany and not affected by the recent fires.

There had, Tony said, previously been supportive comments from the Threatened Species Commissioner, Gregory Andrews, about the potoroo’s potential inclusion on the important 20/20 list. “But the fire has really clinched it and now I’m very confident that more resources will be given to the potoroo recovery program,” he said this week.