News from the Field, Press Release

Possum magic: reintroduced Brushtails spreading across Wheatbelt wildlife corridor

15 Feb. 2024
Charles Darwin Reserve landscape photographed by Seabird Films Andy McGregor and Brushtail Possum photographed by Brad Leue/AWC

The once locally extinct Brushtail Possum is confidently exploring a wildlife corridor on Badimia Country in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt, created by neighbouring wildlife reserves managed by conservation leaders Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Bush Heritage Australia. The discovery highlights the importance of private land conservation and its benefits within an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot.

The Brushtail Possum was absent in the region for almost a century until May 2021, when ecologists from Australian Wildlife Conservancy released 49 individuals into the 131,812-hectare Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary (on Badimia Country), in the northern part of the Wheatbelt. The possum was the ninth species restored to the sanctuary as part of an ambitious reintroduction project underway since 2015. One individual has now been detected travelling up to 40 kilometres into the neighbouring 68,600-hectare Charles Darwin Reserve on Badimia country which has been managed by Bush Heritage for 20 years.

 

A Brushtail Possum reintroduced to AWC's Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary has travelled up to 40km into neighbouring property Charles Darwin Reserve managed by Bush Heritage Australia. Bush Heritage Australia
A Brushtail Possum reintroduced to AWC’s Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary has travelled up to 40km to Charles Darwin Reserve, a neighbouring property managed by Bush Heritage Australia.

 

Dr Michelle Hall, Senior Ecologist with Bush Heritage Australia, said the team was astounded to see the unmistakable image of a possum while reviewing photos from one of their motion-sensor cameras.

“It’s always exciting to see a species we’ve never seen before exploring our reserves,” said Dr Hall. “This individual possum most likely came from across the highway into the eucalypt woodlands of Charles Darwin Reserve. After 20-years under Bush Heritage’s management, the landscape is thriving and now offers many suitable habitats for native species. Hopefully this possum will find a tree hollow in the woodlands to escape ground-based predators.”

 

AWC ecologist releases one of 19 Brushtail Possums outside the fence. Jane Palmer/AWC
The Brushtail Possum was locally extinct in the WA Wheatbelt until May 2021, when AWC ecologists released 49 individuals into Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary.

 

Charles Darwin Reserve and Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary are situated within a contiguous conservation landscape of 30,000 square kilometres within the Southwest Australia Biodiversity Hotspot, one of just two internationally recognised biodiversity hotspots in Australia. Adjoining properties managed for conservation include Ninghan Indigenous Protected Area (IPA), Karara Rangeland Park, Biluny Wells Nature Reserve and a proposed nature reserve at Lake Moore, with complementary approaches employed across each site. At Charles Darwin Reserve, conservation activity is focussed on managing introduced predators through an integrated pest management program, which plays an important role in creating a safe habitat for native species to flourish. At Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, the site of a large feral-free fenced safe haven, feral animal control has also been carried out outside of the fence to support the reintroduction of possums and the Western Quoll (Chuditch).

“Animals don’t live in bubbles so conservation requires multiple organisations with complementary approaches working towards a shared goal of protecting and restoring interconnected habitat,” said Dr Hall. “The integrated pest management by both organisations in the mid-west WA plays an important role in providing a safe habitat for animals like the Brushtail Possum. And this sighting highlights how successful landscape-scale connectivity and collaboration can be.”

 

Possums are regularly being detected on target and non-target cameras at sites inside and outside Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary's fenced area, indicating that the population is starting to establish itself in the neighbourhood. AWC
Possums are regularly being detected on target and non-target cameras at sites inside and outside Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary’s fenced area, indicating that the population is starting to establish itself in the neighbourhood.

 

Georgina Anderson, Australian Wildlife Conservancy Senior Field Ecologist, welcomed the sighting of a possum on Charles Darwin Reserve, saying it suggests that the population is on the way to becoming established in the sanctuary and beyond.

“Collaboration is critical because the challenge of conservation at scale is too great for one organisation alone,” said Georgina. “We need to work together to tackle the threats posed by feral animals, weeds and habitat loss.”

“Mt Gibson is part of this corridor of connected areas of intact vegetation managed for conservation, which allows reintroduced animals, such as the Brushtail Possum, to move through the landscape and settle into other suitable habitats beyond the sanctuary.

“Possums are regularly being detected on target and non-target cameras at sites inside and outside the fenced area, indicating that the population is starting to establish itself in the neighbourhood which aligns with Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s goal of landscape-scale restoration.”

 

Species profile: Common Brushtail Possum

Brushtail Possum reintroduced to Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary. Brad Leue/AWC

The Common Brushtail Possum is one of the most abundant, widely distributed and frequently encountered of all Australian marsupials. Despite its widespread occurrence in some regions, the species has disappeared from more than 50% of its former range, including vast areas in central and northern Australia and parts of Western Australia.

Threats to the species include habitat fragmentation, loss of tree hollows for shelter sites, competition for resources and predation by foxes and cats. Increased frequency of large intense fires are also believed to have caused a decline in populations, particularly in central and northern Australia. For more information, click here.

Subscribe to receive our latest news from the field

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Latest news from the field

Tim Henderson/AWC
News from the Field Press Release 21 May. 2024

Call of tiny desert-dwelling frog recorded for first time

T Henderson/AWC
News from the Field Press Release 18 May. 2024

Pitter, Patter, Proliferation: Newhaven’s Wet Season Wildlife Boom