There’s fresh hope for the future of the beautiful Bridled Nailtail Wallaby, with a small but significant population of the species doubling in size after reintroduction to the Pilliga State Conservation Area in north-western NSW. It’s good news for a species which was once thought to be extinct.
The wallaby made a historic return to the forest in August 2019, when 42 Bridled Nailtail Wallabies were released into a 680-hectare feral predator-free area. The reintroduction was conducted by Australian Wildlife Conservancy in partnership with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services, under the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program, which aims to restore locally extinct species to the Pilliga. The Greater Bilby was released in 2018 and now co-occurs with the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby. Other species that will be reintroduced include the Brush-tailed Bettong, Plains Mouse, Shark Bay Bandicoot and Western Quoll.
After two-and-a-half years of breeding in the feral predator-free safe zone, ecologists found that the founding population of 42 had doubled to an estimated 90 Bridled Nailtail Wallabies. The population growth is critical for the species, which was last recorded in the wild in NSW in the 1920s and was thought to be completely extinct until rediscovered by chance in central Queensland in 1973.
During a post-reintroduction checkup in November last year, AWC ecologists captured a total of 41 individuals, resulting in a population estimate of 90 . Overall, 27 (66%) of captured animals were born in the Pilliga, with 11 of these being captured for the first time. Eight of the 10 females captured were carrying pouch young.
“We’re thrilled that the percentage of captured females carrying pouch young remains high. The young animals included two with fur and eyes wide open, two which were unfurred with eyes open and four unfurred with eyes closed,” said Dr Vicki Stokes, Australian Wildlife Conservancy Senior Wildlife Ecologist.
“We expect more breeding to take place over the next few months and hope to find further population growth as their third-year anniversary in the Pilliga rolls around later this year.”
The burgeoning population will ultimately be transferred to a wider safe haven in the Pilliga, which is expected to support a total population of 2,000 wallabies. However, plans for the wider reintroduction hinge on the removal of the one remaining fox from the site, an elusive individual nicknamed ‘Rambo’.
“Once the wider fenced area is officially declared feral predator-free, we’ll be able to give the wallabies more space for breeding and relocate other locally extinct species.” Dr Stokes said.
Bridled Nailtail Wallabies were historically found throughout semi-arid south-eastern Australia, from the Murray River, in north-western Victoria to Charters Towers, in Queensland. Their population crashed in the early 1900s due to hunting, competition with domestic stock for food, habitat destruction and predation by feral predators such as cats and foxes.
In 2005, AWC reintroduced a population of the endangered species to Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary which was followed by the reintroduction to the Pilliga in August 2019.
Bridled Nailtail Wallabies are a medium-sized wallaby with males reaching up to eight kilograms and females up to six kilograms. The species can be identified by the striking white ‘bridled’ line running along the back of the neck behind each of the forearms. They are mostly nocturnal but can sometimes be seen basking in the afternoon sun during cooler months.
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