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Huddled up in new homes

Published 21 Sep 2014 

A huddle of phascogales.A huddle of phascogales. Photo by Maureen Francesconi.

Like coiled springs, red-tailed phascogales leap from tree to tree, darting around nervously and always alert.

This small carnivorous marsupial is limited in range to the West Australian wheatbelt and on our Kojonup Reserve a translocated population has settled in to one of the largest intact remnants of wandoo woodland – ideal habitat – in the area.

In partnership with the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife, we moved 30 individuals to the reserve over the course of two years beginning in 2010. Around 30 nest boxes were also erected to keep them safe.

“This is our fourth year of monitoring the translocated population and they’re doing well,” explains Bush Heritage ecologist Angela Sanders. “We recorded at least 12 animals in Elliott traps and artificial nest boxes, which indicates a stable population has established.”

Angela Sanders supervises as volunteers set up a new nesting box.Angela Sanders supervises as volunteers set up a new nesting box. Photo by Maureen Francesconi.

All the animals picked up in monitoring would be second or third generation born at Kojonup. The males compete frantically for females and the stress of mating results in their death after each breeding season  at around 11 months. Females can live up to three years, having up to six young each year.

“They make a large ball nest inside the box out of wool, sticks, leaves and feathers, often raiding other nest boxes for material,” says Angela. “Some of the nests now fill the whole nest box.

Recently the South West Catchments Council provided $30,000, through the Inland Linkages Project, to enhancing phascogale habitat. Now 30 new nest boxes have been added and some 500 sheoak trees planted and fenced off to exclude grazing kangaroos and rabbits.

This funding injection also added some sophistication to ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

“It will be fascinating to use small video cameras later this year to see the comings and goings of the females and young.”