Sandra Gilfillan, Wallaby Project Officer with Gondwana Link, explains the conservation effort to boost wallaby numbers in the South West.
The Tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii derbianus) was once so common throughout south-western Western Australia that it was a reliable food source for the local Noongar people.
It was also consumed and used as pet food by Europeans in the first half of the 20th century, with reports of up to 40 animals shot in a night.
This poem, recited by a long-time resident of the region’s wheat belt, Neville Beeck, illustrates the prevalence of this medium-sized wallaby up until the 1950s:
Tammars young and Tammars old,
Tammars hot and Tammars cold,
Tammars tender, Tammars tough.
Thank the Lord we’ve got enough!
Today, however, the species is uncommon, restricted to isolated populations in fragments of suitable habitat that provide refuge from feral predators. Another local animal to have experienced such decline is the blackgloved wallaby (Macropus irma). Unlike the Tammar wallaby, the black-gloved wallaby was not eaten by the Noongar people because of the astringent taste of its meat, but its numbers have dwindled since the 1980s for reasons that are unclear.
Moort woodland on the Gondwana Link property Nowanup is Tammar wallaby habitat. Photo Sandra Gilfillan.
Because of their susceptibility to introduced predators, the destruction of their habitats and their overall decline, these two wallaby species have together been chosen as one of the six ‘conservation targets’ for the Fitzgerald River to Stirling Range corridor of the inspired Gondwana Link project.
This project, supported by Bush Heritage in partnership with Greening Australia (WA), aims to reconnect ecosystems from the woodlands of Western Australia’s drier interior to the tall, wet forests of the state’s south-western corner.
Preliminary work on the Wallaby Project over the past year has involved trialling the use of non-invasive sampling techniques, including spotlighting, filming with remote-sensing cameras and identifying species by means of their tracks and scats.
This year a system of 20 monitoring sites is being set up across the Corackerup subcatchment, including on Chereninup Creek and Peniup Creek reserves, where these techniques will be used to determine the presence of the wallabies.
The ultimate aim of the Wallaby Project is to increase the populations of both species by removing foxes and making more habitat available. This will help the Tammar and black-gloved wallabies to once again become a common part of the ecosystem, and perhaps the subjects of modern-day poetry.