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Friday 21 June, 2013

The tiny tammar wallaby has one secret our ecologists would just love to know.

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters we're restoring habitat for the tammar wallaby in south-west Western Australia. Photo: istockphoto

By Fiona Rutkay

As day turns into night on Chereninup Reserve, diminutive tammar wallabies emerge from their daytime hideout, creep under the fence and hop into the paddock to feed - on what else but wallaby grass?

They're a social sort - foraging, feeding and grooming in pairs or groups of up to eight.

They might love to natter among themselves, but they're keeping their cards close to their chests when it comes to us humans.

After much trial and error, Bush Heritage ecologists first managed to capture the elusive wallabies on infrared cameras in 2009, but they still have not been able to find their bolthole. "We have spent hours and hours searching," says Bush Heritage ecologist Angela Sanders. "We know they're there, but we haven't flushed any out. We have no idea where they hang out in the daytime."

Ecologist Simon Smale in moort woodlandBush Heritage Healthy Landscape Manager Simon Smale in moort woodland, the favoured habitat of the tammar wallaby, in south-west Western Australia. Photo: Peter Morris

A powerhouse of energy

Tammar wallabies are surprisingly small and weigh about 5kg. When monitoring wallabies with spotlights, ecologists distinguish tammars from black-gloved wallabies by their distinctive shape.

"They look like a ball with a little pin head bouncing along," says Angela. And bounce they do. They can take three-and-a-half hops per second at up to two-and-a-half metres a hop - not a lot of time for any observer to get a good look. To add to their talent for evasion, as their speed increases, so does the energy in their tendons - this allows them to speed up further when carrying the extra load of a joey.

For all the tammars' talents, they have not been able to avoid the effects of devastating land clearance across much of Western Australia's south‑west. Once prevalent in the area, their numbers have greatly declined. In fact, the name ‘tammar' comes from a scrub that was traditionally the preferred habitat of Western Australia's tammar wallabies. The scrub, very common when settlers arrived, has been extensively cleared in the south‑west.

Tamar wallabyPhoto by istockphoto

A woodland home

But thanks to you, Bush Heritage is restoring tammar habitat as part of the Gondwana Link project, together with our many conservation partners. The project is now well on the way to linking up bushland across a 1000 km swathe of land from Western Australia's south‑west to the edge of the Nullarbor Plain.

With your support, tammars are now returning to restored land on your Monjebup, Beringa, and Chereninup reserves.

The reserves in this ecological hotspot are stunningly beautiful, featuring dramatic yellow and orange cliffs, with an undulating landscape criss-crossed by creek lines.

Most importantly, the once cleared land is blooming. While some of the larger trees that have been planted could take up to 300 years to reach full height, much of the mallee scrub is already four metres high.

Now that the native trees have taken off, the wallaby grass is coming back all by itself. To give the tammars even more to smile about Bush Heritage, together with our Gondwana Link partners and a team of volunteers are also busy creating more dense-canopied moort woodland, one of their favourite hangouts.

To make sure our planting activities are having a positive effect, we have been monitoring tammar numbers. A 2011 survey showed we have twelve populations on our Gondwana Link reserves.

With your support we will be putting infrared cameras onto revegetated areas on Monjebup North, and doing spotlighting each spring to check on the tammars' progress. Perhaps one day we will even find out where they hide during the daylight, but for now their secrets are safe.

The Gondwana Link project aims to reconnect fragmented landscapes across the south-west of Western Australia, providing new habitat for species like the tammar wallaby (above).

Thank you from the tammar wallaby

Thanks to those of you who have already donated to help us protect our native species. Your donations will help tammars thrive through:

  • Revegetating cleared land with 130 species, including eucalypts, wattles, paperbarks and proteaceous species
  • Carrying out weed control before planting
  • Creating ideal tammar habitat by growing more moort woodland
  • Setting up remote cameras and doing spotlighting on Monjebup North each spring to record tammar and black-gloved wallaby numbers.

If you haven't yet donated, there's still time. Your generous support can help provide tammar wallabies with healthy habitat now and far into the future.

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