Travel between Australia’s west and east coast can be somewhat challenging these days, unless you’re a Numbat. Five of Australia’s threatened marsupials flew out of Perth to NSW this week, to boost local population numbers at Mallee Cliffs National Park.
The five travellers received a loving farewell from their keepers at Perth Zoo in early December, before boarding a special flight to NSW via Adelaide. Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) ecologists met the Numbats at Adelaide Airport where they boarded a charter flight to Mildura followed by a two-hour drive to their new home in NSW.
On arrival at Mallee Cliffs National Park, AWC ecologists performed health checks on the new residents and fitted them with specially designed tracking collars which will be used to monitor their transition to the new environment. The west coast individuals joined 15 other new Numbat arrivals from AWC’s Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary this week. All were released into pre-selected hollow logs located within mainland Australia’s largest (9,570-hectare) feral predator-free area which has been established in the National Park.
The total of 20 new Numbats will supplement the population of 15 which were released into the National Park in December 2020. Last year’s reintroduction and the 2021 translocations are part of a partnership between AWC and NSW Government National Parks and Wildlife Services, as part of the Saving our Species program. The project is one of Australia’s most ambitious rewilding projects and involves returning 10 locally-extinct mammal species to the National Park including Bilbies, Greater Stick-nest Rats, Woylies and Red-tailed Phascogales.
Although it might be a few days or weeks before the new arrivals come across the National Park’s incumbent Numbat residents, ecologists are hopeful that marsupial mingling will run smoothly, and breeding will soon follow.
“Maintaining genetic diversity is an important consideration when planning reintroductions and key to ensuring the long-term viability of the Numbat population,” explained Dr Laurence Berry, Australian Wildlife Conservancy Senior Wildlife Ecologist. “In order to promote this diversity, we’re mixing Numbats from Perth Zoo with those from Scotia to capture a wider range of the remaining genetic variation for this species in the new population at Mallee Cliffs.”
Numbats, also known as noombat by the Nyangar people in south west WA or walpurti by the Pitjantjatjara people in Central Australia, is unique among Australian mammals with an estimated population of less than 1,000 remaining, making them rarer than the global population of Giant Panda. Although they were once found across southern Australia, they are now restricted in the wild with two colonies remaining in WA. There are also four populations protected by Australian Wildlife Conservancy within feral predator-free safe havens at Yookamurra Wildlife Sanctuary in SA, Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in WA as well as Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary and Mallee Cliffs National Park in NSW.
The highly specialised species is diurnal, emerging during daylight hours, and enjoys a diet that consists almost exclusively of termites (each individual consuming around 20,000 termites every day). A petite marsupial, they weigh 700g and grow up to 29cm long plus a fuzzy tail measuring up to 21cm long. They have four to eleven distinctive stripes running across their backs and they have a tubular shaped mouth with an extremely long tongue – all the better for licking up termites.
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