Throughout October, AWC’s ecologists in the south-west conducted a series of translocations of three nationally threatened mammal species to AWC’s Mt Gibson and Faure Island Wildlife Sanctuaries from islands in Shark Bay, Western Australia. The translocations of Banded Hare-wallabies, Western Barred Bandicoots and Shark Bay Mice will boost the numbers and improve genetic diversity among AWC’s reintroduced populations.
The importance of Shark Bay Islands
A handful of islands in Shark Bay have become critical for the survival of several native mammals which have gone extinct on mainland Australia since European settlement. With no feral cats or foxes, Bernier and Dorre islands support the only remaining, naturally occurring populations of Western Barred Bandicoot, Banded Hare-wallaby, Rufous Hare-wallaby and Shark Bay Mouse (all of which were historically widespread on the mainland).
These islands are protected by the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, which also supports and advises the AWC Mt Gibson project.
Faure Island, also in Shark Bay, was purchased by AWC in 1999 with the goal of establishing new populations of these threatened mammals. Two decades later, Faure is now home to thriving populations of three of these species, as well as around half the world population of Burrowing Bettongs. Together, these island populations have become a crucial source of animals for reintroductions.
Island translocations are logistically complex. For this operation, 12 AWC staff, interns and volunteers were working across three separate island locations in Shark Bay (including AWC’s Faure Island), as well as at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary. At the Shark Bay end, six staff worked from a small boat, travelling ashore each evening to spotlight and catch animals. They had to contend with rough conditions at sea, as well as the challenge of spotting and capturing small animals in the dense coastal undergrowth at night.
For the first time, the team used a special thermal imaging scope, which greatly enhanced their capture success for hare-wallabies and bandicoots. Animals were kept overnight, then transferred by helicopter to the mainland, and onwards to Mt Gibson in a light plane. Several ecologists were also stationed at Faure Island and Mt Gibson to receive and release the incoming animals.
The smallest member of its family, the Western Barred Bandicoot is just 20-30cm long. Its disappearance from its entire historical range on the mainland is typical of the ‘critical weight range’ mammals, which suffered dramatic declines following the introduction of feral cats and foxes. The Banded Hare-wallaby was first reintroduced to Mt Gibson in 2017, after going extinct on the mainland in the mid 20th century. It is the last surviving member of a whole branch of the kangaroo family tree, representing millions of years of unique evolutionary history. The Shark Bay Mouse was also once found on the mainland, with sub-fossil remains known from Central Australia and early European records from the mainland Shark Bay area. This round of translocations involved 17 Western Barred Bandicoots, 48 Banded Hare-wallabies, and three Shark Bay Mice.
Returning endangered mammals to Western Australia
The recent operation is just the latest step in a busy schedule of translocations carried out by the AWC’s south-west team over the past few years. In 2014, AWC completed construction of a conservation fence at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, establishing the largest feral predator-free area on mainland Western Australia at 7,800 hectares. Located in the wheatbelt (a mammal extinction hotspot, with at least a dozen species locally extinct), the Mt Gibson project has raised the bar for re-wilding projects in Australia. Populations of eight locally extinct mammal species have been re-established – setting a national record for reintroductions at a single site. The Shark Bay translocations follow successful releases of Red-tailed Phascogales, Woylies and Greater Stick-nest Rats at Mt Gibson earlier in 2018.
AWC acknowledges the support of the Michael Tichbon, Perth Zoo, Lotterywest, the Northern Agricultural Catchment Council NRM and WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions for the Mt Gibson project.
Across Australia, AWC has conducted 18 successful translocations of 12 nationally threatened mammals and three regionally extinct mammals to five feral predator-free sites. Our ambitious strategy of creating a network of ‘mainland islands’ – large, feral predator-free, fenced areas – continues with major projects underway at Newhaven, at Mallee Cliffs National Park and in the Pilliga.