AWC inspires historic bid to restore extinct mammals to NSW National Parks

AWC inspires historic bid to restore extinct mammals to NSW National Parks
Scotia | Mt Gibson | Karakamia | Yookamurra
Field Programs
Wildlife translocations | Feral cat and fox control

April 2014:

“The return of extinct mammals to NSW National Parks will be one of the greatest mammal conservation initiatives ever undertaken in Australia … a powerful demonstration of our commitment to reverse Australia’s mammal extinction crisis.”
 - Professor Tim Flannery (AWC Director)

Bilbies, Numbats and other mammal species which are currently listed as extinct in NSW will be returned to the State’s National Parks under an historic initiative announced today by the NSW Environment Minister.

Based on a proposal submitted by Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), the NSW Government initiative will see the establishment of three large fox and cat-free areas in NSW National Parks. 

Within these feral-free areas – protected by specially designed conservation fences - “extinct” mammals including the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby, the Brush-tailed Bettong, the Western Barred Bandicoot and the Western Quoll, as well as the Bilby and the Numbat, will be reintroduced.

For the first time in more than a century, NSW National Parks will once again be home to some of Australia’s most iconic mammals. 

AWC Chief Executive, Atticus Fleming, described the initiative as representing – on a grand scale - the urgent, on-ground action required to save Australia’s endangered mammals.

“The establishment of large (up to 4,000 ha +) fenced areas is currently the only effective strategy for protecting Australia’s endangered mammals from feral cats and foxes.”

“Establishing additional, wild populations in these large fenced areas will play a critical role in preventing the extinction of species like the Numbat, which now has a global population of less than 1,000 animals, and the Brush-tailed Bettong, which has suffered a catastrophic recent decline from over 200,000 animals to around 10,000 animals.”

In the longer term - when strategies are developed which allow landscape-scale control of feral cats and foxes - populations of Bilbies, Numbats and Brush-tailed Bettongs can be established outside the fenced areas and across the National Parks. 

AWC will be submitting an expression of interest to implement this initiative in partnership with the NSW Government including:

  • establishing the feral-free areas (up to 4,000 + hectares each);
  • reintroducing at least eight mammal species; and
  • delivering land management and science activities across the National Parks in which the feral-free areas are located (around 250,000 hectares – 300,000 hectares). 

 On-ground delivery of an initiative like this is “core business” for AWC:

  • AWC manages more cat and fox-free land on mainland Australia than any other organisation.
  • AWC has conducted over 60 translocations involving more than 3,600 animals from 23 threatened and declining species.
    • AWC already protects some of the largest remaining populations of many threatened mammals including 80% of the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby population, around 33% of the Numbat population and around 20% of the Bilby population.

“This is an outstanding initiative that will position NSW at the forefront of efforts to protect Australia’s threatened mammals and to develop a lasting solution to the feral cat problem.”


For more information:  contact Atticus Fleming (0419 693 987) or Erica Young (0448 091 757).


A.      The mammal extinction crisis

  • Australia has the worst mammal extinction record in the world. 
  • In NSW:
    • 25 mammals are listed as extinct.
    • 59% of surviving mammal species are listed as threatened.
  • Many of Australia’s threatened mammals – including Bilbies, Numbats and Brush-tailed Bettongs – are continuing to decline.  For example, the Brush-tailed Bettong population has fallen by 90% in the last 15 years, from over 200,000 to around 10,000. 

B.      The role of cats

  • Feral cats kill an estimated 75 million native animals every day across Australia.
  • Feral cats are widely acknowledged as the greatest threat to threatened mammals, along with foxes.   

C.      Why is this NSW Government initiative so important?

  • This initiative will see the return to NSW National Parks of at least eight mammal species which are listed as “Extinct” in NSW.  This will be the first time in NSW history that extinct mammals have been returned to the State’s national parks.
  • The mammals to be reintroduced could include Bilbies, Numbats, Brush-tailed Bettongs, Bridled Nailtail Wallabies, Western Barred Bandicoots, Burrowing Bettongs, Western Quolls and Eastern Bettongs.
  • The initiative will play a vital role in saving these species from extinction.  For example:
    • Only 1,000 Numbats now remain.   The new feral-free areas in NSW National Parks could increase the global population by up to 50% (500 Numbats). 
    • Australia’s Bilby population is now estimated at less than 10,000 animals.  The new feral-free areas in NSW could increase the global Bilby population by up to 20% (2,000 animals).
    • Entering these feral-free areas will be like stepping back in time to experience the Australian bush as it was 200 years ago, before the arrival of foxes, cats and rabbits … alive with small native mammals. 

D.      What does the NSW initiative involve?

  • At least three large fox and cat-free areas (around 10,000 hectares in total) will be established.
  • These large feral-free areas will be embedded in selected NSW National Parks (covering, in total, around 250,000 – 300,000 hectares). 
  • Each feral-free area will be surrounded by conservation fences which are designed to exclude cats, foxes and other feral animals.  This fencing is six feet high with special design features including skirts, overhangs and electric wires.
  • Following the removal of all feral animals, the “extinct” mammals can then be reintroduced into these secure areas. 
  • Each fenced area will support wild, self-sustaining populations of reintroduced mammals.
  • The long-term objective is to also release mammals across the selected national parks, beyond the fenced areas.  However, this will require the development of more effective landscape scale controls for feral cats and foxes.

E.       Why is conservation fencing required?

  • The establishment of large, fenced feral-free areas is the only option to ensure the safe reintroduction of highly endangered mammals such as those which are now “extinct” in NSW. 
  • Techniques such as baiting and shooting are not currently able to reduce cat numbers to a level that will allow reintroductions of these mammal species (in the absence of a fence). 
  • A 2013 Federal Senate Inquiry, supported by all sides of politics, specifically recommended that greater use be made of predator exclusion fencing.

F.       The track record of AWC

  • AWC owns and manages more land for conservation than any other non-government organisation in Australia:  we protect threatened wildlife across three million hectares in places like the Kimberley, the Top End, central Australia and western NSW.
  • Of particular relevance, AWC manages more feral predator-free land on mainland Australia than any other organisation (government or non-government).
  • AWC has established three substantial feral predator-free areas on mainland Australia, using conservation fencing, and is currently establishing a fourth such area:
    • Scotia, on the NSW/SA border, contains a feral predator-free area of 8,000 hectares.  This is the largest fox and cat-free area on mainland Australia.
    • Yookamurra, in South Australia, is 1,100 hectares.
    • Karakamia, in Western Australia, is 250 hectares.
    • Mt Gibson (under construction) in Western Australia will contain a feral predator-free area of 7,800 hectares. 
    • In addition, AWC manages the 6,000 hectare, world heritage-listed Faure Island (at the time of the feral eradication program, this was the third largest island in the world from which cats had been eradicated).
    • AWC has translocated over 3600 animals from 23 mammal species, into, out of, and between, eight AWC sanctuaries in more than 60 translocation events. 
  • Our feral predator-free areas have generated exceptional results.  For example:
    • The Bridled Nailtail Wallaby population in Queensland National Parks has decreased by over 75% in the last decade (to approximately 300).  In contrast, the population on AWC (feral-free) land has increased by over 1000% (to over 2,000). 
    • The Numbat population has declined significantly in the last decade.  In contrast, the Numbat population on AWC (feral-free) land has increased to the point where we now protect around 33% of the remaining population. 
    • The population of Woylies in national parks has declined by 90% in the last decade.  During this time, the Woylie population on AWC (feral-free) land has increased.
  • AWC’s record was recently recognised by a Federal Senate Committee which stated:

The committee particularly commends the work of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and its impressive record of successful management of areas protecting a large number of threatened species, as well as its success in achieving substantial increases in the numbers of several nationally threatened species.

Report of the Senate Committee
“Effectiveness of threatened species and  ecological communities protection in Australia”

  • AWC is also carrying out the largest feral cat research project ever undertaken in Australia.  In doing so, we are playing a critical role in developing a strategy which will, in the medium-long term, enable the reintroduction of mammals outside fenced areas.