Australian Wildlife Conservancy has just announced a translocation of 60 woylies from Karakamia (southwestern Australia) to Stage 2 of Scotia in far-west NSW. AWC has now conducted more than 75 translocations of threatened mammals.
Woylies are impacted by grazing, land clearing, fire and especially foxes. They got down to critically low numbers in only three populations but recovered considerably during the 1990s due to the Western Australian government's "Western Shield" program. Under Western Shield, extensive fox baiting is undertaken to protect native species from predation. The program has been exceptionally successful and widely recognised. However, a few years ago, the numbers of woylies and several other species began a rapid decline, despite continued fox baiting.
The decline in woylie numbers might be due to several factors. Disease is one. "Mesopredator release" is the other. "Mesopredator release" is a fancy term for other predators becoming an important factor when fox impact is knocked down. For example, feral cats or native goannas may have become more important as a predator of the woylie - foxes may have kept these species in check. It's likely both factors are having an influence - our CRC's largest demonstration site is involved in determining the relative role of predators.
Whatever the reason, establishment of this new population at the second stage of Scotia Sanctuary is good news. The extra numbers are good and the isolation from other populations is potentially critical is disease is a major impact. Scotia is the largest feral-free area in Australia and these woylies will be free from foxes and cats because of the incredible fencing in place. Scotia gives us an idea of pre-European Australia.
Woylies are ridiculously cute. They are a bit over a foot tall and their name relates an aboriginal word for the fact that they have a prehensile tail - apparently they can use it to gather sticks and leaves for nests. They are also known as Brush-tailed Bettongs, but like most of their kind, they are largely unknown to most Australians.
See www.australianwildlife.org and my previous entry on AWC www.feral.typepad.com/feral_thoughts/2008/08/australian-wild.html
Photo courtesy WA Department of Environment and Conservation.