The adorable marsupial surviving against all odds
HOPE HAS BEEN restored for this endangered species under an ambitious project which aims to turn back the clock on marsupial extinction.
This cute little guy was snapped up during a wildlife survey on Faure Island, where one of the last remaining populations of burrowing bettongs (Bettongia lesueur) has recovered to more than 5000 animals.
While the burrowing bettong – also known as the boodie – is presumed extinct on the Australian mainland, two subspecies have survived on islands off the coast of Western Australia. Both these subspecies are listed as vulnerable.
Australia is in the grip of an extinction crisis – almost a third of Australia’s mammals have become extinct or are facing extinction in a process that began more than 200 years ago with European settlement.
The burrowing bettong is no exception, having disappeared from 99 per cent of its former habitat.
According to Atticus Fleming, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) CEO, there are approximately 15,000 individuals remaining. “Foxes and feral cats are far and away the major threat to burrowing bettongs, as for many other small to medium sized native mammals,” he says.
Other threats include competition for food from other herbivores such as rabbits, as well as bushfires and possibly climate change.
AWC has already reintroduced burrowing bettongs to feral predator-proof ‘mainland islands’ such as Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary in the Murray-Darling basin and Yookamurra Wildlife Sanctuary in South Australia in a bid to save the species. They are also hoping to relocate more into protected wildlife sanctuaries in New South Wales and the Northern Territory within three to five years.
The plan would help secure the conservation of burrowing bettongs by establishing two populations of up to 3000 individuals, and would see the existing Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary project in central Australia extended by a further 65,000ha.
“This future project would be expected to double the global size of the burrowing bettong population,” says Atticus.
AWC conducts annual surveys of the population where reintroduction has been successful. “On Faure Island, AWC ecologists are conducting research to improve our methods for estimating population size – comparing trapping, spotlighting and remote camera surveys,” Atticus says.
“To date, the species has not been successfully reintroduced outside a fenced area on the mainland.”