A brush-tailed bettong is released onto Yorke Peninsula © WWF-Australia / Juansimage.com

A brush-tailed bettong is released onto Yorke Peninsula © WWF-Australia / Juansimage.com

Sea change for bettongs

01 Aug 2022

Keywords
  • ecosystem
  • south australia
  • western australia
  • woylies
  • Regenerate Australia

Moving interstate can be a bit of an ordeal. The journey can be long, the new landscape strange, and these days, you might even have to deal with the occasional border closure.

 

Well, things are no different when you’re a brush-tailed bettong.

 

After being declared locally extinct on Yorke Peninsula more than 100 years ago, the bettongs (also known as ‘woylies’) are coming back, thanks to the reintroduction efforts of the Marna Banggara project.

 

Meaning ‘Healthy or Prosperous Country’, the Marna Banggara Project aims to restore Yorke Peninsula’s landscape and bring back species that have been lost.

 

While the first batch of brush-tailed bettongs was translocated from Wedge Island to Yorke Peninsula just over a year ago, in June, a group of thirty-six bettongs from Manjimup in Western Australia were chosen to be the next group of bettongs to make the trip.

 

The bettongs were trapped, processed, fitted with tracking devices, and then flown in from the Upper Warren region in Western Australia to be resettled on two sites in Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park on the South Australian mainland.

 

Trapping, processing and then releasing thirty-six Critically Endangered animals more than 2,000 kilometres away from where you found them? It sounds like a lot of work, and it all had to happen very, very quickly.

 

Aaron Smith and Derek Sandow trap bettongs in Manjimup, WA © WWF-Australia / Sunburnt Films

 

According to Claire Hartvigsen-Power, Zoos SA’s Conservation Ecologist and the translocation coordinator on Marna Banggara, “When you're doing something like this, you have to work on the animal's timeline. We have a lot of food and a lot of coffee to get ourselves through, but we really need to get the animals trapped, processed, and then transported to their release site within 24 hours.”

 

“A lot goes into making these translocations a success.” She said, “Everything from research permits, looking after animal welfare, ethical concerns, all the way down to looking for accommodation and making sure there are beds.”

 

But beds or not, these conservationists are driven by their mission to bring the bettongs home.

 

Chloe Frick conducting health checks on bettongs © WWF-Australia / Tim Clark

 

“We know from historical records, from fossil records, that the brush-tailed bettong used to live here on southern Yorke Peninsula,” said Derek Sandow, Regional Ecologist from the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board. “This might be part of why the Wedge Island translocation last year was a fantastic success. They're finding food. We're walking around, seeing diggings on the ground, and there's been breeding. We've got new animals. Wild born animals here.”

 

So, with all signs pointing in the right direction, partners in Marna Bangarra were keen to keep the momentum going.

 

Only one week after delivering the thirty-six brush-tailed bettongs from Western Australia, they forged ahead with the next group of bettongs, trapping and transporting another forty-four of the Critically Endangered marsupials, taken once again, from a healthy population on nearby Wedge Island.

 

Claire Hartvigsen-Power unloads bettong from charter flight © WWF-Australia / Juansimage.com

 

Which might have you wondering, if there are brush-tailed bettongs living in the same state as Yorke Peninsula, why go to all the trouble of taking bettongs from as far away as Western Australia?

 

Derek Sandow explained. “The animals that have been brought over from Western Australia have a very important purpose. They’re the only bettong population that has persisted in the wild in Australia. They've got the best representation of genetics in the remaining population, and they’ve been able to survive over there with low numbers of introduced predators. Which is actually really important, behaviourally, because it means they have predator awareness.”

 

The bettongs from Wedge Island, however, do not. “They come from a predator-free island,” said Derek Sandow, “So having that genetic diversity, and also having those behavioural skills, will improve the chances for the population here to establish and really flourish.”

 

Claire Hartvigsen-Power added, “Genetic diversity is really important when you're establishing a population. So, genetic diversity is basically when animals are less related to each other. If you have really low genetic diversity, it makes them more susceptible to things like disease and illnesses, which might be able to move through a more closely related, inbred population. If you add in that genetic diversity by taking from other really separate populations, like we've done here, it really helps create this robustness in the population and ensures they're going to be successful in the future.”

 

Walking to the bettong release site in Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park on Yorke Peninsula © WWF-Australia / Juansimage.com

 

The hope is that with 80 brush-tailed bettongs added to the Yorke Peninsula population, it won’t be long before the population starts to see some growth all by itself. “We're really hoping it'll be a successful reintroduction, that they'll continue to breed here, and that the population will grow and expand across the park,” said Claire Hartvigsen-Power. “Then they'll contribute to the ecosystem too. They'll start digging, turning over the soil and they’ll become a key functioning part of this park.”

 

With the brush-tailed bettongs back where they belong, it sounds like, despite being a bit of an ordeal, the move interstate was just the sea change they, and we, needed.

 

A brush-tailed bettong is released onto Yorke Peninsula © WWF-Australia / Juansimage.com

 

A brush-tailed bettong is released onto Yorke Peninsula © WWF-Australia / Tim Clark

 

To learn more about how Marna Banggara is restoring the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia and bringing back species that have been lost, click here.

 

What can you do to help?

The Marna Banggara project is jointly funded through the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board, the Australian Government, the South Australian Department for Environment and Water, WWF-Australia and Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife.

Other partners actively involved in developing and delivering the project include Regional Development Australia, South Australian Tourism Commission, Zoos SA, FAUNA Research Alliance, BirdLife Australia, Nature Conservation Society of SA, Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation, Primary Producers SA, Primary Industries and Regions SA, Conservation Volunteers Australia, Legatus Group, Yorke Peninsula Council, Yorke Peninsula Tourism and Scientific Expedition Group.

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