Home' Traveller : Scoop Traveller WA 020 Contents 66 Scoop Traveller July - December 2011
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This rat-like marsupial was a conservation
success story – for a short while.
Standing about 30cm (a foot) high, the tiny
woylie is also known as the brushtail bettong
because of the distinctive ‘brush’ at the end of
its tail. The name woylie is a Nyoongar word
referring to its ability to carry leaves and sticks
with its tail to build nests. Distantly related to
the kangaroo, it hops quickly on its back legs
and has powerful front legs for digging.
Adrian Wayne, research scientist from the
Department of Environment and Conservation
and coordinator of the Woylie Conservation
Project, calls it “a rocket with legs”.
According to Adrian, it has an important role
to play in the health of its forest home. Woylies
dig for their favourite food – underground fungi
and their diggings help water seep into the
ground and move the nutrients in the soil.
The spores from the fungi they eat are also
scattered throughout the forest floor in
their droppings. Fungi help other plants
grow so in this case woylies play a major part
in the re-establishment of native vegetation.
At one time the woylie could be found across
two-thirds of the Australian continent but by
the 1990s was on the endangered list, with just
three small populations left in Western
Australia’s south-west. Concerted efforts
were made to control the woylie’s main
predator – the fox – and in 2000 numbers
increased to more than 40,000. The woylie
became a conservation celebrity.
“What happened next was dramatic,” says
Adrian. “We’ve seen populations crash, up to
95 per cent of animals disappearing in a year.”
The cause continues to remain a mystery.
Now the woylie is again listed as endangered on
state and federal threatened species lists, and
critically endangered internationally.
“We’ve seen populations crash, up to 95 per cent
of animals disappearing in a year”
Numbat distribution across Australia
- historic (> 30 years)
- present distribution
If it wasn’t for the fact that the numbat
is Western Australia’s fauna emblem, the
striped marsupial may already have been
extinct. Only a few years ago, the numbat
was critically endangered, but due to the
baiting of foxes, its primary predator, new
populations have been established. The
numbat is now considered to be endangered
with its population confined to small pockets
in the state’s south-west.
Project Numbat Incorporated is a
community organisation dedicated to raising
awareness of the marsupial and promoting the
Numbat Recovery Program. Project Numbat
Inc estimates a population of less than 1000
individual numbats due to the destruction of
their habitat, introduced predators and fire .
Numbats can be recognised by their banded
reddish-brown bodies with their long bush
tail resembling a bottlebrush. Because they
are termite eaters the numbats have a narrow,
pointed snout used to extract up to 20,000
termites from the soil in one day. The numbat’s
lifestyle is closely linked to the movements
of the termite so the numbat is one of two
Australian marsupials that are strictly diurnal
(that is to say, active during the day).
The preferred habitat of the numbat is
wandoo woodland, which has the highest
concentration of termites. Wandoos also
drop hollow branches that are used by these
marsupials as a nest. In the Perup Forest near
Manjimup, the numbats seem to have adapted
well to the jarrah trees.
A woylie and its baby
(Photography Babs and Bert Wells).
WA’s fauna emblem, the numbat.
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