WWF-Australia is today launching an ambitious project to create a safe haven near Adelaide and repopulate the area with native species that have been extinct from South Australia for over 100 years.
In partnership with the Northern and Yorke Natural Resources Management Board and the Federal Government, WWF-Australia will help ‘rewild’ South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula by introducing up to 20 native species over the coming decades to create a “Great Southern Ark”.
The project will begin by building a fence to enclose 130,000 ha of the peninsula’s southern tip, to stop the movement of foxes and feral cats into the area. Over the next few years, endangered species will be brought to the Yorke Peninsula from across Australia.
If it works, the project could be a model for restoring degraded landscapes right across the country, reversing Australia’s extinction crisis.
“Unfortunately, the experience of the Yorke Peninsula is typical for many parts of Australia. We know at least 27 mammal species were lost from the peninsula because of the clearing of native vegetation for agriculture over the last hundred years,” said Darren Grover, WWF-Australia’s Head of Living Ecosystems.
Although it looks healthy today, the national park in the peninsula is growing over an old mine site that was once devoid of native vegetation. While it is possible to see kangaroos and emus around the district, most native Australian species have never returned to the area.
“This project is our attempt to wind back the clock and return the Yorke Peninsula to its former ecological glory. We hope to use the peninsula as a model for other parts of the country where animal species are facing extinction,” said Mr Grover.
The first species to be reintroduced will be the woylie or brush-tailed bettong, a small kangaroo-like marsupial that plays an essential role in the ecosystem. Woylies are soil engineers that dig up as much as four tonnes of dirt per year as they search for food, which inadvertently improves water infiltration and helps native plant seedlings.
The project’s long-term vision is to introduce a vast number of other species including the bilby, numbat and western quoll.
“This project will help us to build a new 130,000 hectare sanctuary for species that are under threat in other parts of Australia. We hope this will bring in tourists, help farmers manage feral pests and increase awareness about how to best protect our native species before they disappear,” Mr Grover said.
The project is the result of 10 years of discussion and community engagement with many different groups.
Australia has the highest level of mammalian extinction in the world.