Feature, News from the Field

A golden experience: witnessing the return of bandicoots to Australia’s Red Centre

23 Nov. 2023
Brad Leue/AWC

Under a blanket of stars on a cool late-winter night, students from Nyirripi School joined Warlpiri Rangers and AWC ecologists at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary on Ngalia-Warlpiri and Luritja Country to add a little gold to Australia’s Red Centre.

Gathered inside the 9,450-hectare predator-free safe haven the students, rangers, and ecologists huddled together to catch a glimpse of the Warlpiri-named Pakuru, Golden Bandicoots, as they set foot onto the desert sands after an almost 60-year absence.

The 40 locally extinct bandicoots had arrived earlier in the afternoon from Barrow Island in Western Australia, a journey of over 1,600 kilometres. Once they arrived, AWC ecologists conducted health checks and attached VHF radio collars or tail-mounted tags to 20 individuals to monitor their movements and health for up to four weeks.

AWC Field Ecologist Aliesha Dodson and Newhaven Ranger Benedict Mosquito with students from Nyirripi School release a Golden Bandicoot inside the predator-free area. Brad Leue/AWC
AWC Field Ecologist Aliesha Dodson and Newhaven Ranger Benedict Mosquito with students from Nyirripi School release a Golden Bandicoot inside the predator-free area.

Known as Kirlilpi in Nyirripi language, the Golden Bandicoot is a culturally significant species to Indigenous People in Central Australia. Sadly, due to predation from feral cats and altered fire regimes, they have become a mere memory to those old enough to remember.

One such person is Newhaven Warlpiri Ranger, Alice Nampijinpa Henwood, who shared her knowledge of Country and the Pakuru in Warlpiri during a sunset storytime session for the fascinated students.

Newhaven Warlpiri Ranger, Alice Nampijinpa Henwood, shares tales from her childhood and the Pakuru which used to live at Newhaven. Brad Leue/AWC
Newhaven Warlpiri Ranger, Alice Nampijinpa Henwood, shares tales from her childhood and the Pakuru which used to live at Newhaven.

The strong connection between the school and the sanctuary facilitates a connection to Country and learning for the Nyirripi community, which lies some 400 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs.

“The students were very excited about the release of the Golden Bandicoots. They love being involved with the releases that occur in Newhaven and talk about it for weeks after,” said Nyirripi teacher, Tracey Millar.

“As a matter of fact, the early years class now have a new phrase for when we need them to be quiet. I just say ‘Golden Bandicoot’ and the students know to be as quiet as when we were releasing them. So it’s been a win/win situation.”

As a special surprise, the children were asked to give five of the new residents names to welcome them to Country. The names given to the lucky five were Ruby, Jess, Max, Looky, and Goldie.

AWC Field Ecologist Aliesha Dodson answering questions from curious students while they release new resident Max the Golden Bandicoot. Brad Leue/AWC
AWC Field Ecologist Aliesha Dodson answering questions from curious students while they release new resident Max the Golden Bandicoot.

AWC’s Newhaven Sanctuary Manager, Mike Rawnsley was delighted to host the Warlpiri students and community for the release.

“It was wonderful to have the children visit Newhaven,” says Mike. “To see their excitement when they finally saw the bandicoots up close, and to share that moment with them is really special.”

“The bandicoots are settling in well and making themselves at home,” he adds “We will keep the school updated on their progress as we track them over the coming months.”

Golden Bandicoot Ruby is released into the predator-free safe haven at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary. Brad Leue/AWC
Golden Bandicoot Ruby is released into the predator-free safe haven at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary.

Once found across mainland Australia, the Golden Bandicoot is now listed as ‘threatened’ with a highly fragmented distribution. Primarily found on offshore islands of WA and the NT, north-west Kimberley is host to the only remaining natural mainland population.

They are the seventh species reintroduced to Newhaven and join a population from AWC’s Charnley River – Artesian Range Wildlife Sanctuary, on Wilinggin Country, which was released a fortnight earlier.

It is hoped the reintroductions, and subsequent genetic diversity, will help secure the long-term future of the species.

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