One of Australia’s most successful conservation projects is nearing completion with another 25 black-flanked rock-wallabies flown this week to Kalbarri National Park in Western Australia.
The new arrivals include, for the first time, black-flanked rock-wallabies from Cape Range National Park at Exmouth to help increase the genetic diversity in Kalbarri.
This week’s translocation is one of the final acts in an ambitious and successful project to re-establish the threatened species in the remote WA Mid West location.
For decades it was feared black-flanked rock-wallabies were extinct in Kalbarri.
Then in 2015, just as the WA Government was drawing up plans to re-introduce them, a pair of black-flanked rock-wallabies, with a joey, was spotted in Kalbarri National Park.
But with only a small population surviving their genetics were in danger of being lost forever.
WWF-Australia in partnership with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions became involved in the project to move black-flanked rock-wallabies from WA’s Wheatbelt, where they were thriving, to Kalbarri National Park to help re-establish a viable population.
In 2016, 23 rock-wallabies were flown in, followed by another 24 in 2017.
On 15 May 2018, another 25 were transported to the park, including five from Cape Range National Park.
The Wheatbelt and Cape Range rock-wallabies will help increase the genetic diversity of the recovering population.
WWF-Australia Species Conservation Manager, Merril Halley, explained why this was important.
“Healthy levels of genetic diversity help animals adapt to disease and other factors such as climate change. Reductions in genetic diversity increase the risk of extinction over time,” she said.
“Unfortunately, because of the distance now between populations, black-flanked rock-wallabies are less able to disperse and breed with other groups.
“This isolation can lead to a loss of genetic diversity which can put stranded populations at risk,” she said.
Ms Halley said the wallabies introduced to Kalbarri had been positioned according to a careful strategy.
Only three Wheatbelt females were released near the surviving Kalbarri male so as to ensure future young have a mixture of Kalbarri and Wheatbelt genetics. On Tuesday they were joined by two Cape Range females.
The other wallabies introduced since 2016 have been placed at another three separate locations a few kilometres apart along the river.
The number of sighted joeys in Kalbarri has increased. As they mature males and females from all four locations will breed and exchange genes.
“The genetics of the Kalbarri wallabies will now live on in future generations and we’ve added genes from the Wheatbelt and Cape Range populations. That genetic diversity should help the population remain healthy,” she said.
Introducing 72 rock- wallabies to the area has meant there are sufficient numbers to ensure genetic diversity.
No further translocations are planned. However, the wallabies will be monitored using a combination of radio collars, trapping and remote sensor cameras and feral animal control measures will continue.
“The future is looking bright for these rock-wallabies. Kalbarri National Park is well on the way to becoming an important refuge for one of the nation’s favourite marsupials. So far, this ranks as a great conservation success story for Australia,” Ms Halley said.
This project was undertaken by the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and WWF-Australia, with support from the Australian Government’s National Landcare programme.