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A Brushtail Possum at Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, Badimia Country, WA. Photo: Brad Leue
A Brushtail Possum at Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, Badimia Country, WA. Photo: Brad Leue

Possum party

Words by Bee Stephens
Location: Badimia Country, Western Australia 
Published 25 Mar 2024

An unlikely and brushy hero is spotted at our Charles Darwin Reserve.

For those who dwell in the concrete jungle, bustling burbs or regional centres, the rambunctious rattle of fence palings, high-pitched hissing and shadow work of a bushy tail is often a call for concern (or earplugs). But approximately four hours north-east of Perth, on Badimia Country at Charles Darwin Reserve, the sight of a Brushtail Possum is one for celebration.

The possum was captured on a motion-sensor camera, and it's walked a very special conservation journey. 

While Brushtails are abundant in some regions, since European settlement their range has been reduced by 50%.

In Western Australia’s Wheatbelt, where Charles Darwin Reserve is located, they'd been extinct for over a century. This was until 2021, when ecologists from Australian Wildlife Conservancy translocated 49 possums to the nearby Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary.

Since 2015 at Mt Gibson, Australian Wildlife Conservancy has been working on a significant reintroduction program that hopes to establish substantial new populations of ten threatened Australian mammals. The Brushtail is the ninth species to be translocated, and the first to be introduced outside of the feral-free fenced area.

“It’s always exciting to see a species we’ve never seen before exploring our reserves. This individual possum most likely came from across the highway into the eucalypt woodlands of the reserve,” explains Dr Michelle Hall, Bush Heritage Senior Ecologist.

A Brushtail Possum caught on camera emerging from a hollow at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in September 2023. Photo: Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Landscape connectivity and evidence of good management are very important guests at this possum party. Both Mt Gibson and Charles Darwin Reserve are within the internationally recognised Southwest Australia Biodiversity hotspot and, in combination with the Ninghan Indigenous Protected Area and the Karara Rangeland Park, provide protection of over 800,000 hectares of bush. 

This is a biodiverse stronghold in an area that endures the impacts of extensive land clearing, introduction of invasive species, changes to appropriate fire management and the rising challenge of climate change.

“After 20 years of our management at Charles Darwin Reserve, the landscape is thriving and now offers many suitable habitats for native species. Hopefully this possum will find a nice tree hollow in the woodlands to escape ground-based predators,” says Dr Hall.

Our ongoing work at Charles Darwin Reserve began with serious weeding and the removal of remaining sheep and feral goats. Since then, the control of invasive species has been a priority for management. We've implemented an Integrated Pest Management Program to reduce the threat of predation on terrestrial mammals by foxes and cats, the latter being the biggest threat to mammals in Australia. 

We've also enhanced habitat by restoring patches of wildflowers, woodlands and eucalyptus forest. 

For the Brushtail and the region’s rich native species, these efforts offer a higher chance of survival in a thriving home.

For Georgina Anderson, Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Senior Field Ecologist, the sighting confirms population data and supports the organisation’s long-term vision. She explains, “Possums are regularly being detected on target and non-target cameras at sites inside and outside the fenced area, indicating that the population is starting to establish itself in the neighbourhood which aligns with Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s goal of landscape-scale restoration.”

The final resounding hero from this party is collaboration.

“Collaboration is critical because the challenge of conservation at scale is too great for one organisation alone,” says Georgina. “We need to work together to tackle the threats posed by feral animals, weeds and habitat loss.”

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