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Possum magic

Reintroduced Brushtails spreading across Wheatbelt wildlife corridor

Published 16 Feb 2024

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 40km into the neighbouring 68,600-hectare Charles Darwin Reserve on Badimia country, which has been managed by Bush Heritage for 20 years.

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.”

Charles Darwin Reserve and Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary are situated within a contiguous conservation landscape of 30,000 km2 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.”

Brushtail Possum on Charles Darwin Reserve, Badimia Country, WA.

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

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, please contact:

Nahrain John
Communications Associate  
Australian Wildlife Conservancy 
0476 711 833 /  Nahrain.john@australianwildlife.org

Jill Rischbieth
Communications Team Leader 
Bush Heritage Australia 
0434 894 494 / Email: Jill.Rischbieth@bushheritage.org.au

Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC)

Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) is a global leader in conservation, providing hope to Australia’s wildlife with a science-informed, land management partnership model that delivers high impact results. AWC is a national leader in landscape scale conservation land management, reintroductions of threatened species and the establishment of feral predator-free areas. 

Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary covers a vast 131,812 hectares, about 350km north-west of Perth. The sanctuary is the site of one of Australia’s most ambitious mammal reintroduction projects, involving the rewilding of 10 species inside and outside a 7,838-hectare feral-free area. The sanctuary is also home to 664 plants (10 threatened), 147 birds, 67 reptiles, 39 mammals and six amphibians.

Bush Heritage Australia

Bush Heritage Australia is a leading not-for-profit conservation organisation that protects ecosystems and wildlife across the continent. We use the best science, conservation and right-way knowledge to deliver landscape-scale impact. We’re on the ground, working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the agricultural sector to make sure our impact is deep, sustainable and collaborative.

Charles Darwin Reserve is a 68,600-hectare nature reserve located north-east of Perth, on the northern edge of the Western Australian wheat belt. Acquired in 2003 and named in honour of the great naturalist, Charles Darwin Reserve has transformed from a former pastoral station into a thriving landscape under Bush Heritage’s management. The landscape provides an important refuge for native animals such as the nationally vulnerable Malleefowl, Gilbert’s Dunnart, and Regent Parrots.

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