News from the Field

Behind the Shot: photographing Burrowing Bettongs in central Australia

13 Apr. 2024
Brad Leue/AWC

While documenting the reintroduction of Golden Bandicoots to Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary, Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s (AWC) Professional Photographer/Videographer Brad Leue was fortunate to also spend time photographing the newly established Burrowing Bettong population.

“This series of photographs shows a community of Burrowing Bettongs coming and going from their shared warren system over one night at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary. For many years these systems have been ghost towns, housing nothing more than invasive rabbits,” says Brad.

“After years of land management, feral animal control and the establishment of a massive feral predator-free safe haven by AWC, Burrowing Bettongs are now back in the landscape and have quickly reestablished themselves in the complex warren systems constructed by their ancestors.”

A pair of Burrowing Betting exiting their new-found burrow at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary. Brad Leue/AWC
A pair of Burrowing Betting exiting their new-found burrow at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Burrowing Bettong is one of many Australian species that fall into the unfortunate ‘critical weight range’ category, meaning it is of a size that is easily preyed upon by introduced cats and foxes. The population, which was once spread over most of southern Australia now only exists on offshore islands and in fenced safe havens – the grim result of cats and foxes roaming the Australian bush.

Commonly referred to as ‘Boodie’ in Western Australia and known locally by the Warlpiri name ‘Purdaya’` they made a historic bounce back into Central Australia in 2022, where the threatened species has been missing from the desert since the mid-20th century.

A new, safe home with a million-star view. Brad Leue/AWC
A new, safe home with a million-star view.

With approval from the Traditional Owners and Tarlka Matuwa Piarku Aboriginal Corporation, AWC translocated 25 Burrowing Bettongs from the Matuwa Kurrara Kurrara Indigenous Protected Area, located on Martu Country in the northern Goldfields of Western Australia, to Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary, located north-west of Alice Springs on Ngalia-Warlpiri and Luritja Country.

The 25 bettongs join another 40 individuals who were translocated to Newhaven from AWC’s Scotia (NSW) and Yookamurra Wildlife Sanctuary (SA).

One of the 65 translocated individuals making themselves at home in the desert. Brad Leue/AWC
One of the 65 translocated individuals making themselves at home in the desert.

Bettongs, like Bilbies and Bandicoots, are important ecological engineers. Their digging and foraging aid in the retention of nutrients and water in soils, the decomposition of leaf litter and the dispersal of fungal spores and plant seeds.

“It is a pretty magical experience spending the night at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary,” Brad said. “With six locally extinct species now reintroduced to the landscape, you get a true sense of how active these desert environments are meant to be at night. From observing the diggings alone that stretch across the landscape, you can really see how much of a role these animals play in an environment.”

Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary now supports threatened populations of Bilbies, Burrowing Bettongs, Brush-tailed Bettongs, Mala, Red-tailed Phascogales and Golden Bandicoots – not to mention all the other species that benefit from the absence of cats and foxes in the environment. The safe haven at Newhaven will become a refuge for wild populations of at least 10 nationally threatened mammal species.

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