Surveying Bridled Nailtail Wallabies on Avocet

about  Goonderoo Reserve  
on 12 Sep 2017 
A Flashjack wallaby proving it deserves its name when Alistair releases it during the survey. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> A Flashjack wallaby proving it deserves its name when Alistair releases it during the survey. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Bush Heritage Ecologist, Rebeca Diete, putting Lucerne in one of the cage traps prior to the survey. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> Bush Heritage Ecologist, Rebeca Diete, putting Lucerne in one of the cage traps prior to the survey. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Janelle Lowry (EHP) showing Alistair how to use the chip reader to identify individuals. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> Janelle Lowry (EHP) showing Alistair how to use the chip reader to identify individuals. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Janelle and Alistair taking measurements. Flashjack females weigh on average 4-5kg and males 5-6kg. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> Janelle and Alistair taking measurements. Flashjack females weigh on average 4-5kg and males 5-6kg. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Checking pouch young. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> Checking pouch young. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
A diminutive Bridled Nail-tail wallaby, also affectionately known as a Flashjack wallaby. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> A diminutive Bridled Nail-tail wallaby, also affectionately known as a Flashjack wallaby. Photo Annette Ruzicka.

Our volunteer caretakers at Goonderoo play an important role in the recovery of Bridled Nailtail Wallabies at neighbouring Avocet Nature Refuge in Central Queensland. The diminutive Bridled Nail-tail wallaby (Onychogalea fraenata), also affectionately known as the Flashjack wallaby is listed as Endangered in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and nationally (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). 

As part of their weekly caretaker duties, the volunteers conduct fence inspections and check water at the Flashjack nursery. They also support feral animal control, monitoring and weeding projects in the Brigalow habitat that the Flashjacks call home.

One of the highlights of supporting the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) and Wildmob on this project is participating in population surveys, which give volunteers the chance to meet the Flashjacks and gain an appreciation of what they're helping to protect.

Our August volunteer caretaker, Alistair Bestow, was joined by student volunteers from the University of Queensland and Central Queensland University as well as Bush Heritage ecologist, Rebecca Diete as participants on a recent survey. He wrote the following account about the experience:

It has been one heck of a busy week tending to the Bridled Nailtail Wallabies. Having set the traps locked in the open position for the previous three weeks, baited with lucerne, it was time to check on the number and health of the local population of wallabies.

The crew lead by Janelle from the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, ably assisted by Bush Heritage staff and volunteers, as well as university students, were briefed on the process on Monday afternoon. We worked in three teams of three, were allocated a proportion of the traps, and were asked to remove the wires holding them in the open position, add lucerne and set them such that they would close when a wallaby steps on the treadle. This would take a good hour or so, starting at about 4pm.

We would then return to out accommodation, have dinner, and then go out to the traps at 8.30pm to check if there were any trapped wallabies. Trapped wallabies were checked to see if they already had an implanted identification chip (just like a pet id tag). If not, they were given one. The wallaby would be weighed, the sex noted and, if female, whether there was a joey in the pouch.

Further inspection of the four teats in the pouch would also reveal whether it was also mother to a ‘young at foot' (a joey that was still at least partially dependent on the mother, but hopping about nearby). We'd also check some physiological indicators of health – teeth, gums, 'fatness' of tail, state of fur, and tick count in their ears.

The wallaby was then released. Most captured wallabies are very calm but a few were quite restless to say the least.

We had traps set inside the wallaby nursery (a cat and fox free zone) as well as outside the nursery. Those females caught outside the nursery with a pouch joey (but no apparent 'young at foot') would be placed inside the nursery to enhance the survival of the mother and her joey. Cats are partial to wallabies weighing 3kg or less. Those wallabies inside the nursery that weighed more than 3kg –especially males – were released to outside the nursery.

We also recorded the presence of wallabies that were trapped more than once over the five nights of trapping. The primary objective of this exercise was to check on their health, and to do a (very) rough estimate of the population through the capture-mark-recapture protocol.

This first wallaby patrol lasted until about midnight. We reset the traps and go off to bed. Until about 3.30am (!) when we rise to do the second patrol at 4am, which takes us through until dawn, at which time we close the traps. And then we have a little breakfast, and go to bed until about mid-day. And then we ready ourselves for the trap setting at about 4pm.

Overall we trapped 39 individual wallabies (including 19 from inside the nursery) and a total of about 130 captures (yes, some wallabies can't resist the temptation of lucerne). It was a particularly successful trapping year, which augers well for this satellite population of wallabies. (The previous three annual trapping surveys caught between 16-24 individuals.)

My accommodation moved from a population of one (i.e. me) to five -which included a photographer, two uni students and the Bush Heritage ecologist during this week. It's always interesting to hear about others’ backgrounds and views on conservation. I found the process of splitting one’s sleep cycle into two quite testing toward the end of the week.

Now my house mates have all departed and I'll focus on weed spraying – there are some nasty Sword Pear (cactus) that need my attention ... 

Having fun, Alistair

Bush Heritage Ecologist, Rebeca Diete, putting Lucerne in one of the cage traps prior to the survey. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> Bush Heritage Ecologist, Rebeca Diete, putting Lucerne in one of the cage traps prior to the survey. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Janelle Lowry (EHP) showing Alistair how to use the chip reader to identify individuals. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> Janelle Lowry (EHP) showing Alistair how to use the chip reader to identify individuals. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Janelle and Alistair taking measurements. Flashjack females weigh on average 4-5kg and males 5-6kg. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> Janelle and Alistair taking measurements. Flashjack females weigh on average 4-5kg and males 5-6kg. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Checking pouch young. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> Checking pouch young. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
A diminutive Bridled Nail-tail wallaby, also affectionately known as a Flashjack wallaby. Photo Annette Ruzicka.<br/> A diminutive Bridled Nail-tail wallaby, also affectionately known as a Flashjack wallaby. Photo Annette Ruzicka.