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Brush-tailed bettong baby boom on Yorke Peninsula

Regional News

The once locally extinct marsupials reintroduced to South Australia are thriving with the help of researchers and the Marna Banggara re-wilding project.

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After 40 brush-tailed bettongs – also known as woylies – were reintroduced to the Yorke Peninsula last August by the Marna Banggara conservation project, nearly all of the female marsupials are now carrying joeys.

The nationally endangered species had not existed in mainland South Australia for more than 100 years before they were released at two sites in Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park on Yorke Peninsula. The ambitious project aims to “re-wild” the state by restoring lost species to the landscape by keeping them safe from predators such as feral cats and foxes.

Derek Sandow, an ecologist for the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board, was thrilled by the historic achievement.

“We captured the very first bettong born on Yorke Peninsula in over 100 years, and she was carrying her own joey, a tiny jellybean, inside her pouch,” Sandow said.

“This means the population is finding good sources of food and shelter to allow for breeding of the next generation.”

Chloe Frick, PhD student at the University of Adelaide, measures the weight of a brush-tailed bettong while Emily Reynolds records it and Derek Sandow, Northern and Yorke Landscape Board Ecologist, watches on. Photo: WWF-Australia / Ninti Media

Chloe Frick, a PhD student at the University of Adelaide has been managing the research of the bettong’s reintroduction, observing them as they re-populate the area.

“Bettongs are quick and elusive creatures so it is difficult to keep tabs on their progress without a monitoring device,” Frick said.

“The tail transmitters are a non-invasive way for us to keep an eye on the animals and see how they are managing in their new home.”

Brush-tailed bettong with pouch young. Photo: WWF-Australia / Ninti Media

Marna Banggara, originally known as the Great Southern Ark, is a land management project that aims to restore locally extinct species to the Yorke Pennisula area, such as the Southern Brown Bandicoot, the Red-tailed Phascogale, and other native rodent species. The project has been funded by entities such as the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, WWF Australia, and the Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation.

Patrick Giumelli, WWF-Australia’s Rewilding Program ecologist, said the bettongs turn over dirt and leaf litter while searching for food, which helps native seeds to germinate and disperse.

“We are starting to restore the landscape to its former ecological glory by returning vital species that create healthy environments,” Giumelli said.

Researchers measure the head length of a brush-tailed bettong joey to determine its age. Photo: Dr. Raphael Eisenhofer

Brush-tailed bettongs once occupied more than 60 per cent of mainland Australia but habitat loss due to predators pushed the species to the brink of extinction. To protect the bettongs, a 25-kilometre predator control fence was built across the foot of the peninsula in 2019-2020 to provide a safe haven for native species.

The two-metre-high chain link fence starts at Flaherty Beach and winds across to Sturt Bay. The wire mesh underneath it stops predators from digging under it and the ‘floppy top’ leaves feral cats unable to climb over.

Northern and Yorke Natural Resources team leader Max Barr inspects a predator-control fence being built on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia as part of the Marna Banggara project. Photo: WWF-Aus / Paul Fahy

The project has been developed in collaboration with the Narungga People, who have been deeply involved with the project, and who will help release the next group of bettongs to the area later this year. Some 80 bettongs – 40 from Western Australia and 40 from nearby Wedge Island – will be introduced to increase genetic diversity among the marsupials.

Whilst the project is an intense labour of love for all involved, Gimuelli is confident that it will have far-reaching effects for years to come and will be a positive influence on the Yorke Peninsula’s environment.

“We are using nature to heal nature.”

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