Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Numbats - Charming and Endangered

By Sharon Wormleaton

The Numbat Myrmecobius fasciatus is a small Australian marsupial found in south-west Western Australia. Sadly, it is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species .

It once existed across much of southern Australia but by the 1980s only two small populations, comprising around 300 individuals, could be found in south-west Western Australia.

The devastating reduction in distribution was attributed to the introduction of the European red fox, changes in fire regimes and land clearing. At present there are thought to be no more than 1000 individuals remaining in the wild, and the population trend is declining.

Numbat recovery efforts include fox baiting, translocation of wild numbats to establish new populations, and a captive breeding program. The recovery efforts have seen an appreciable increase in numbers and successful re-introductions into six conservation areas and two fenced sanctuaries.

Despite all efforts, the numbat remains at risk of extinction with feral cats being the biggest threat to numbat populations at present.

Ongoing research initiatives from the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) include a radio tracking project. The project is an annual affair that has taken place in Dryandra Woodland near Narrogin since 2006. The radio tracking project requires a family of numbats (mother and young numbering as many as four) to be caught and fitted with radio tracking collars. Four fixed radio tracking towers are then erected in the mother's home range and simultaneous 'fixes' are taken on each collared numbat at 20 minute intervals for a two week period. The radio tracking towers are manned by volunteers for three 4-5 hour shifts from 6am until 7pm. The data collected is subjected to computer analysis to provide a map of each individual numbat’s movements throughout each day. This will hopefully enhance knowledge of juvenile numbat development.

Driving surveys are another key aspect of the project. As many numbats as possible are found and fitted with radio tracking collars so they can be periodically monitored throughout the life of each numbat to gain further information. Some of these collared numbats are re-caught at later stages and released in other locations, while others are re-caught to supplement the captive breeding program. Ultimately the radio tracking project has many benefits for numbat conservation efforts, and will hopefully help ensure the survival of this remarkable and beautiful little mammal.

I have been involved with the radio tracking project in a volunteer capacity for the last two years. It was certainly a privilege to have the opportunity to contribute to the conservation efforts for this unique little mammal. We were informed last year the project didn’t have the funding to continue anymore, like many threatened species projects in Australia, so I decided I would try my luck at raising funds for the project to continue at least one more year. Thankfully the Paddy Pallin Foundation have chosen the numbat radio tracking project as the recipient for their next ‘Don’t Bag the Environment’ (DBTE) fundraiser. Whenever anyone makes a purchase from a Paddy Pallin store and declines a plastic bag, 20 cents is donated to the project. Donations can also be made in-store or online .

Besides raising funds to support environmental projects, the DBTE program also reduces packaging waste and land fill, and conserves energy resources required to manufacture plastic bags, so it has many benefits for the environment. The DBTE program has a new beneficiary every six months with all proceeds for the next six months (April to September 2010) going to the numbat radio tracking project, so any support is most welcome.

The Crescent Nailtail Wallaby was the last mammal to become extinct in Australia in 1956, but in 2009 Australia possibly saw its first mammal extinction in 50 plus years. In January 2009 there were thought to be less than 20 Christmas Island Pipistrelles (microbat) remaining, so a rescue mission was initiated with the hope of capturing the remaining pipistrelles to start a captive breeding program. The rescue attempts were unsuccessful and there have been no recent sightings, so the outlook doesn’t look good for the pipistrelle. As far as developed nations go Australia has the worst record of mammal extinctions and near extinctions, so plenty needs to be done to prevent further extinction of unique and remarkable mammals such as the Numbat.

Profits from the sale of Sharon's work on Art for Conservation will also go to the numbat radio tracking project.

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