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Numbats return to central Australia

21 Dec. 2019
© Brad Leue/AWC

Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) has successfully released ten Numbats at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary on Thursday this week. For the first time in more than 60 years, central Australia is once again home to this iconic Australian mammal.

 

This Numbat translocation represents the first step in AWC’s project to re-establish a population of this nationally endangered mammal in the Northern Territory. The trial translocation was a logistically complex operation: AWC’s dedicated team of ecologists spent several weeks catching suitable adult Numbats at Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary in far western NSW as temperatures soared above 48°C.

It took the team up to 4 hours to extract each Numbat from its burrow and process it for the journey ahead. In total 6 male and 4 female adult Numbats were selected and given a thorough health check before being transported via charter plane to Newhaven where they were released – just in time for Christmas!

To help them feel at home in their new environment, each Numbat was released during the day into the shelter of a hollow log within the Mulga woodlands south-east of Wardikinpirri (Home Range). All ten Numbats were fitted with radio collars and will be closely monitored in the months ahead. Pending the success of this trial translocation, additional Numbats will be brought in to supplement this population in 2020.

Post Image (body) 760x547 © Brad Leue Numbat © Brad Leue/AWC
AWC ecologists, Hannah Thomas and Georgina Custance extracting a Numbat from its burrow.

Numbats are entirely unique, being the only Australian marsupial to have evolved a specialist termite-eating lifestyle. In fact, each Numbat consumes an estimated 20,000 termites every day! Numbats are also Australia’s only diurnal marsupial. Historically found in arid and semi-arid regions across much of southern Australia, Numbat populations have experienced a catastrophic decline in recent years due to predation by feral cats and foxes as well as habitat loss. Records suggest the species most likely went extinct in central Australia in the 1950’s.

Outside of AWC sanctuaries, Numbats now only survive in the wild in just a few remnant sites in south-west Western Australia. Numbats are one of Australia’s most endangered mammals – the last official estimate of Numbat populations in Australia put the total global population at just 1,000 individuals.

Post Image (body) 760x547 © Brad Leue Newhaven © Brad Leue/AWC
At least ten locally extinct mammal species are scheduled to be reintroduced to the 9,400 hectare feral-free fenced area at Newhaven.

AWC has reintroduced Numbats to secure feral predator-free areas at Yookamurra, Scotia, and Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuaries. The Stage 1 fenced area at Newhaven is expected to support more than 200 Numbats, representing a potential 20% increase to the global Numbat population.

At Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary, AWC is undertaking the largest feral cat eradication on the planet and restoring populations of at least ten regionally extinct native mammals to central Australia. The project is being undertaken in stages. Completed in 2018, the Stage 1 feral cat and fox-proof fence protects 9,400 hectares. Earlier this year, AWC released Mala – recognised as one of Australia’s most endangered mammals – into Stage 1. The Mala are settling in well and are breeding successfully.

Post Image (body) 760x547 © Wayne Lawler Numbat © Wayne Lawler/AWC
The Stage 1 (9,400 ha) feral-free area at Newhaven is expected to see the global population of Numbats increase by 20%.

Stage 2 will see the feral-free area at Newhaven expanded by a further 100,000 hectares (potentially increasing the global Numbat population by 400%!). At least ten nationally endangered mammal species are scheduled to be restored to Newhaven in coming years, making it Australia’s most ambitious rewilding project.

The release of these pioneering Numbats is a major achievement – one that your support has made possible. Thank you for helping us reach another new milestone for conservation.

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