Last summer, Australia was ravaged by the most devastating bushfire season the country has ever seen. Tragically, over 1.25 billion animals, many found nowhere else in the world, perished. Many struggling Australian species have now been pushed even further towards the brink of extinction. Donate today to help our precious wildlife and habitats recover from this disaster.
Safeguarding the Kangaroo Island dunnart
Last summer’s bushfires had a devastating impact on many native species, but few were pushed to the brink quite like the Kangaroo Island dunnart. As its name suggests, this mouse-sized carnivorous marsupial is only found on Kangaroo Island in South Australia.
Before the bushfires, it was estimated that between 300-500 dunnarts lived on Kangaroo Island. More than 90 per cent of their habitat was scorched in the fires, prompting fears for the survival of the species. Without a helping hand, the Kangaroo Island dunnart could be lost forever.
Thanks to our supporters’ donations, WWF-Australia has been able to support Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife to install sensor cameras and build shelter tunnels to help monitor and safeguard the Kangaroo Island dunnart while the species recovers. Heidi Groffen, an ecologist with Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, explains further…
How many dunnarts are left after the fires?
We would hope that there are at least 50, but really we don't know. We're using all of our manpower now to get out and put survey camera lines within the unburnt areas of the De Mole Catchment. We've already found a few new sites, which is fantastic, and now we're hoping that we can find more. In the Western River Refuge property, we've got at least five individuals that we've identified from our camera trapping, but hopefully, there's more as it is quite hard when they're this big to be able to tell who's who on a camera. In time we'll get a better idea of how many are here. We have also detected the dunnart at a number of survey sites within the large unburnt area of the De Mole catchment, which is very encouraging. We have just commenced surveying of previously known dunnart sites that are now severely burnt. The great news is we have confirmed images of the critically endangered dunnart within one of these sites post fire.
We know dunnarts are nocturnal, so what systems do you have in place to spot them on the island?
We put in a flywire, 30 centimetres high fences that run for 30 metres through the bushland, and at either end we place a camera. The cameras are movement and heat sensor cameras and we place them along the fence line so anything that moves through that bushland will come across that fence line, turn left or right and they'll definitely run in front of a camera.
What are the biggest challenges and threats for Kangaroo Island dunnarts now the fires are out?
The Western River Refuge property has had a lot of feral cat control over the last 10 years or so with only a few cats pulled out of the area because they've been on top of it. The landholders have worked really hard. But since the fires, we've removed over 50 feral cats from this site alone. We've got over 50 cage traps set and we have also used the Felixer grooming traps for a short time. That's a lot of cats. These feral cats have moved out of their territories, which have been burnt, and they're on the move looking for new territories and hunting grounds to claim. Without feral cat control, this site might not have any dunnarts left in it.
What are shelter tunnels and how do you know they work?
The shelter tunnels have been trialled in other fire areas across Australia. They’re for small mammals and small birds to have a little bit more shelter and refuge while they're foraging and hunting. At night time, when the dunnarts are on the move, they can move through the tunnels. They're around 25 metres long.
We set cameras within the tunnels and within the first few days we saw a couple of dunnarts or a couple of records of dunnarts going in and out of the shelter tunnels. So we know that they're working. The shelter tunnels have been in place for a few months now and we are getting records of dunnarts utilising them on a semi regular basis. We are about to install some more within a very burnt habitat that did support a good population of dunnarts before the fires and still does amazingly. There isn’t a lot of ground cover for these dunnarts to survive safely, so we will get the tunnels built immediately to protect them during this recovery period.
What does the future look like for the Kangaroo Island dunnart?
This species has a bumpy road ahead, but if we can keep working with landholders to identify dunnart sites and reduce the impact of feral predators then I think there’s reason to be hopeful. We've got feral cat control programs happening across the three main dunnart populations within privately owned properties and we’re managing to reduce the spread of Phytophthora cinnamomi, which is a root rot disease that kills the native vegetation most utilised by the dunnarts. We want to try and stop this disease getting into the remaining remnant vegetation. If we can keep doing this and learning more about the dunnart then we know we can save this species from extinction.
People can help WWF-Australia continue to deploy funds to care for wildlife and restore habitat lost in the fires by donating here.