A few days into the annual fauna survey at Monjebup Reserve, 150km from Albany at the sharp edge of the Gondwana Link habitat corridor, we came across our first Western Pygmy Possum (Cercartetus concinnus).
Our supervisor informed us that there’s some conjecture around which tiny marsupial is the cutest, Honey or Pygmy Possums. After seeing both popping up in the pit traps and nesting boxes blanketing the reserve, I can understand the debate. Over the course of five days myself and four other volunteers interacted with a broad cross-section of animals that had made homes for themselves in the newly revegetated areas, from a multitude of colourful and patterned skinks to the tiger striped Western Blue Tongue, a single stoic dragon and the ever-present and energetic Honey Possums.
Monjebup reserve is a revegetation success like few others I’ve seen before. At eye-level the bushland is a tapestry of trees and shrubs that arranges itself in regular, coordinated lines that hint at the brief agricultural history of the landscape. From a poor pairing of crops and cleared fields, the land has taken to the native vegetation with a vigour that’s hard not to attribute a sense of sentience to; and amongst the bush, volunteers Sandra, Kyle, Susie, Kirsty and I were on our knees each morning at daybreak gathering the data to show it.
Pitfall traps are comprised of a small wire fence, with a buried bucket in the centre to collect animals and insects which run along the barrier. Paired with a tin Elliot trap and a few Cage traps for larger animals we can see the diversity of creatures gathering in the vegetation.
Each day started at 5.30 am preparing for the morning with gaters for our legs and small vials of honey water for possums to suckle on, and off we went in two teams. Each trap needed to be cleared and measurements taken from the animals inside before the sun started to heat up; including the skinks that nestled into the sand at the bottom and the possums that curled up to shelter inside.
Honey Possums go into torpor after a few hours with no nectar, and weighing these sleeping marsupials in this state is stress free for both the possum and us; but after a tiny sip of honey water (or “possum petrol” as our supervisor Kirsty called it) they were back in fighting form, wriggling and crawling all over our hands – then it was time to release them onto a nearby flower.
It was incredibly rewarding to take part in this research over the week and to see the progress being made in leaps and bounds by Bush Heritage Australia. And I can definitely say that despite the adorable droopy ears and tiny snouts of Pygmy Possums, the cuteness of Honey Possums vigour and drive wins out for me.
Thanks to Angela Sanders and Sarah Luxton for including us in this work, and I look forward to visiting Monjebup again, to see the progress in the years to come.