In edition 36 of Wildlife Matters, you’ll find updates from around our sanctuaries that underscore the hard work of the AWC team on the ground – implementing the science and land management required to provide effective conservation for all Australian wildlife.Read more...
Mala / Rufous Hare-wallaby
Range and abundance
The Mala was once widespread and abundant across semi-arid Australia including much of WA, NT and SA, extending into western QLD. Following European settlement, the range of Mala was reduced drastically as a result of predation by cats and foxes; the last known population in the Tanami Desert became extinct in the wild in 1991. Fortunately, some individuals from this population were saved and were put into a captive breeding program. Today, Mala survive only on one island free of introduced predators and in four small semi-wild populations behind conservation fences, including AWC’s Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary. The Scotia population is now playing an important role in conservation of the species.
There are two other recognised subspecies of Lagorchestes hirsutus. The subspecies L. h. hirsutus from south-west WA is extinct; the other subspecies L. h. bernieri persists on two islands in Shark Bay WA (current population estimated at 4,000 individuals).
The Mala is a small marsupial with reddish-orange fur, similar to the colour of inland sand. Adults are stand approximately 30cm in height and weigh between 0.7-2.0 kg. There is no colour variation between the sexes, but on average, females tend to be slightly larger than males of a similar age.
Mala are solitary and once occupied a variety of vegetation types, mainly in sandy habitats. They were once abundant in spinifex grasslands and also inhabited gravelly plains, dunes, and mulga (Acacia aneura) woodlands with tussock grass. They are nocturnal and shelter beneath spinifex and shrubs during the day, or they hide in short burrows - especially during summer. Their diet consists of a mixture of nutritious forbs and grasses, often promoted by recent fire;they will eat seed heads and insects for moisture during dry periods. Females breed continuously throughout the year, giving birth to one young at a time. Pouch life lasts around four months and a female can produce at two offspring per year, depending on environmental conditions. Males take approximately 14 months to reach sexual maturity, while females can take from 5-18 months. The oldest known age of breeding of females is approximately nine years. Longevity in captivity is ~13 years but is likely to be less in the wild.
The Mala is extinct in the wild, primarily due to a predation by introduced predators (foxes and feral cats). Extensive wildfires that resulted following the cessation of Aboriginal fire management increased the exposure of Mala to introduced predators.
What is AWC doing?
AWC will introduce Mala into a purpose built 150 hectare fenced, feral predator-free area on Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary, starting with an emergency translocation of the last remaining Mala population from Watarrka National Park, in late 2017. These 20 Mala are all that is left of a population of 200 after a large wildfire destroyed the vegetation which sheltered the animals, leaving them vulnerable to predators.
Within two years the Mala will be released into a larger 9,450 hectare feral predator-free area (currently under construction). Over time, as the feral-free area at Newhaven expands, we estimate the property will become home to 18,000 wild Mala. AWC is also looking to reintroduce Mala to the 7,800 ha fenced, feral predator-free area at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, following an assessment of the outcomes of current translocations.
AWC also protects one of the five remaining semi-wild Mala populations within a 115 ha feral predator-proof fenced area at Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary. This population was established from 31 individuals in 2004, supplemented with another two animals in 2008. The population has continued to grow, and there are now 60 Mala at Scotia. Our ecologists monitor the Mala annually. This important population will be a source for future translocations.