A species of hopping-mouse presumed to be extinct in NSW has returned to the state this week, when Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) together with Zoos SA, reintroduced the native Mitchell’s Hopping-mouse to Mallee Cliffs National Park in western NSW.
Fifty-eight individuals were reintroduced to a 9,750-hectare feral predator-free area at Mallee Cliffs National Park where AWC works in partnership with the NSW Government. They joined 97 other individuals which were reintroduced to the site in April.
The hopping-mice were collected from Monarto Safari Park operated by Zoos SA, where a breeding program has been underway to boost the species’ numbers ahead of the reintroduction. The small critters were driven six hours to Mallee Cliffs where AWC ecologists with members of the Zoos SA team performed health checks before releasing them.
Thirty individuals were fitted with specially designed collars which will be used to track their movements as they transition from the captive setting to the national park environment. AWC ecologists will remove the collars after four weeks.
Rachel Ladd, AWC Wildlife Ecologist, welcomed the return of the species to NSW.
“Small native rodents are a key group of our native fauna which have experienced substantial declines following European colonisation,” explained Rachel Ladd. “Within the Mallee Cliffs feral predator-free safe haven, the species can safely rebuild its numbers in a part of semi-arid NSW, where they have become locally extinct.”
AWC began working in collaboration with Zoos SA in 2019. Together they have established a captive breeding program for the Mitchell’s Hopping-mouse and successfully bred offspring for reintroduction to Mallee Cliffs. The Mitchell’s Hopping-mouse is the third species that Zoos SA have helped reintroduce to Mallee Cliffs, after the Greater Stick-nest Rat and Red-tailed Phascogale.
Zoos SA Conservation Field Officer, Claire Hartvigsen-Power, said she and keeper Courtney Barks were looking forward to being part of the animals’ journey to Mallee Cliffs National Park.
“The reintroduction of Mitchell’s Hopping Mice is the culmination of almost two years of hard work on behalf of our keeping team,” she said. “We are really pleased to be a part of the conservation of this species, and the restoration of biodiversity at Mallee Cliffs.”
The hopping-mice are a group of native mammals which has suffered widespread declines and extinction due to land clearance as well as predation by feral predators such as cats and foxes. Of the ten recognised species, five have been wiped out completely, while two of the remaining species are threatened with extinction. The Mitchell’s Hopping-mouse remains secure but has suffered major declines.
As a nocturnal species, Mitchell’s Hopping-mouse takes shelter during the day in burrows that can typically house up to eight individuals. In the evening, they emerge in search of seeds and plant materials that make up most of their diet.
The Mitchell’s Hopping-mouse marks the sixth species to be reintroduced to Mallee Cliffs National Park as part of a large-scale rewilding project delivered by AWC with the NSW Government. They join the Bilby, Numbat, Greater Stick-nest Rat, Woylie and Red-tailed Phascogale which were reintroduced between 2019 and 2022.
At 9,570 hectares, the safe haven at Mallee Cliffs is the largest of its kind on mainland Australia. The area is fortified by a state-of-the-art predator-proof fence which stands two metres high and incorporates a floppy-top design, a specially reinforced ‘skirt’ to prevent animals from burrowing in, and electrified wires.
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