Ecologists were elated last week when they encountered the first new independent young Northern Bettong to join the ranks of a recently established population at Mount Zero-Taravale Wildlife Sanctuary (Gugu Badhun country) in north-east Queensland.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) ecologists Felicity L’Hotellier and Melissa Christi, were conducting a routine three-month post-release survey on the endangered species, using truffle-flavoured bait balls to lure bettongs into cage traps. At 1.45am on Thursday morning, the pair was about halfway through checking their allocated trap sites, when they came across a small sub-adult patiently waiting in one of the traps.
Felicity and Melissa ushered the small individual into a breathable bag to conduct a health check, and confirm that the bettong was the first new addition to Mount Zero-Taravale since the species was translocated to the 950 hectare feral predator-free fenced area in May this year.
“This little sub-adult is so special,” Felicity said of the young Northern Bettong. “He’s around 700 grams, and smaller than any of the males we translocated to Mount Zero-Taravale three months ago; this little one would have been a pouch young, carried in the safety of his mum’s pouch during the translocation, and since then has finished his development and successfully joined the population here as an independent sub-adult; the first new recruit we’ve encountered!”
Celebrations continued throughout the early morning, as Felicity and Melissa encountered a number of female bettongs carrying pouch young – the first young to be born at Mount Zero-Taravale, with some as small as jelly beans and others well on their way through the 100 days they will spend within their mouthers’ pouch.
“We expected breeding to have commenced among the Northern Bettongs but seeing the pouch young born at Mount Zero-Taravale is really exciting,” said Melissa. “It’s also encouraging to know that the population is already growing, and we hope that in the next five years or so their numbers will reach up to 500 individuals, which would increase the species’ overall population by almost 50%.”
Identified as one of 20 Australian mammals at greatest risk of extinction, there are only two known remaining populations of the Northern Bettong, one of the Lamb Range with around 1,000-1,500 individuals and a small population on Mount Carbine Tableland with an estimated population of as few as 30 individuals. Within the last 20 years, two other populations have gone extinct, due to a range of factors including the impact of feral predators and herbivores, habitat loss and mis-managed fire.
In the hope of securing the future of the species, AWC worked in close collaboration with Traditional Owners, the Department of Environment and Science (DES) and the Northern Bettong Recovery Team, to translocate 49 adult and independent sub-adult Northern Bettongs to Mount Zero-Taravale in May this year. Eighteen individuals were fitted with radiotracking collars for close monitoring post-release. According to the three-month post-release survey, Mount Zero-Taravale’s newest residents appear to be healthy and thriving in their new home.
The translocation of the Northern Bettongs and the construction of the 950 hectare feral fenced area was made possible thanks to grant funding and support from the Australian Government, Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science, Oak Foundation, WIRES, as well as donations from AWC supporters around the world.
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