A giant leap

Friday 30 September, 2016

The 2010 translocation of 30 Red-tailed Phascogales to Kojonup Reserve in Western Australia signalled a maturing of approach for Bush Heritage Australia.

A Red-tailed Phascogale. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
A Red-tailed Phascogale. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Kojonup Reserve is a magical oasis in Western Australia’s wheat belt, a chaotic bushland known for its thriving birdlife. Golden Whistlers flash through the canopy, feasting on insects. Rufous Treecreepers nest in hollows and White-browed Babblers forage amongst fallen logs.

By day, Kojonup roars with the chatter of birdlife. But the best show comes at night. As the birds roost, a tiny marsupial ventures into the evening and starts foraging amongst the wandoo woodlands that sprawl across the 389-hectare property. Measuring 10cms in the body and weighing just 60g (about the weight of a chicken egg), the Red-tailed Phascogale moves at blink-and-you-miss-it speeds, leaping up to two metres in a single bound.

Ecologist Angela Sanders with a Red-tailed Phascogale. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Ecologist Angela Sanders with a Red-tailed Phascogale. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Only a few years ago you wouldn’t have found a Red-tailed Phascogale on Kojonup. Once widespread across the southern half of Australia, land clearing and predation had cornered these animals into a small section of WA’s southern wheat belt. In 2010 the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife contacted Bush Heritage with a bold proposal: a ‘wild-to-wild’ translocation.

The idea was simple – moving a small proportion of a Phascogale population from elsewhere in the wheat belt and establishing a new, self-sustaining population amongst Kojonup’s intact remnants of wandoo woodland. It was ideal habitat, benefitting from almost 15 years of Bush Heritage’s careful management.

But a potential translocation was new territory for Bush Heritage. Protecting habitat had long been part of Bush Heritage’s work – but intense species-level management like this was new.

Putting up a nesting box. Photo Angela Sanders.
Putting up a nesting box. Photo Angela Sanders.
“Translocation wasn’t a strategy we’d been involved in,” recalls Science and Research Manager Dr Jim Radford. “But this was a great opportunity to explore ways we could increase the conservation values of properties that we already owned. It was a real maturing of approach for us.”

Between 2010 and 2011, thirty Phascogales were released onto Kojonup Reserve just before their mating season. Trees on the property were fitted with wool-lined boxes to allow safe nesting and to increase their chances of survival. The results have been astounding.

“We’ve been seeing more individuals every year since 2011,” Bush Heritage Ecologist Angela Sanders said. “This year we recorded 25 altogether. Since these critters are short-lived, all of these would have been born at Kojonup, which indicates the Phascogales are breeding – a wonderful sign.”

“We can safely say the translocation was a success and we now have the basis of an ongoing sustainable population.”

Three phases of Wandoo, in decline, maturity and recovery. Photo Angela Sanders.
Three phases of Wandoo, in decline, maturity and recovery. Photo Angela Sanders.
More importantly, the project’s success has instilled confidence within Bush Heritage about the value of such approaches. Similar relocations of the endangered Red-finned Blue-eye fish on Queensland’s Edgbaston Reserve, and the Striped Legless Lizard onto Scottsdale Reserve in NSW are also producing pleasing results.

“With these successful translocations we don’t necessarily have to go out and purchase another property to increase our conservation impact,” Dr Radford says. “These projects have been important milestones in the growth and maturing of Bush Heritage. We hope to do more of this in the next 25 years.”

Thanks to your support, Bush Heritage has taken steps to not only protect habitat of native creatures, but reintroduce creatures onto potential new habitat.

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