Wildlife Matters

Partners in conservation

07 May. 2024
Wayne Lawler/AWC

Eight years in NSW national parks


Partners In Conservation

By Nahrain John, Media Relations Specialist

Eight years ago, Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) signed a ground-breaking agreement that would become a blueprint for partnerships within Australia’s wider conservation community. The terms of the collaboration were centred around the reintroduction of up to 11 locally extinct mammal species to feral predator-free fenced areas in Mallee Cliffs National Park (in south-west New South Wales) and the Pilliga State Conservation Area (in north-central New South Wales).

To date, the partnership has seen 10 of the 11 planned species restored to the two safe havens, including the iconic Greater Bilby and Numbat.

AWC has been setting the gold standard for conservation in Australia. I have been lucky enough to visit the Pilliga partnership at the start and more recently. There is something deeply inspiring about land where species are being reintroduced and their presence is regenerating the landscape. In a land where we have lost so much, the work of AWC is bringing some of that back, and slowly but surely reweaving the wondrous web of biodiversity. Fenced conservation is absolutely critical for preserving species and genetic diversity while we work on landscape-scale solutions for invasive species management and, ultimately, eradication.”
Senator David Pocock, AWC supporter

“The partnership has offered a pathway to conserving threatened species and landscapes in public protected area estates that AWC wouldn’t traditionally be able to access. The success demonstrates what can be achieved when state government and private conservation organisations come together,” says Tim Allard, AWC Chief Executive.

David Kelly of NPWS adds: “This partnership provides a long-term commitment to the conservation of threatened species and aims to turn back the tide of extinctions and restore populations of our most vulnerable species.”

The partnership between AWC and NPWS has seen the tree-dwelling Red-tailed Phascogale restored to Mallee Cliffs National Park after an absence of more than a century. Mahalia Booth-Remmers/AWC
The partnership between AWC and NPWS has seen 10 species restored including the tree-dwelling Red-tailed Phascogale to Mallee Cliffs National Park after an absence of more than a century.


The partnership kicked off with the construction of two specially designed feral-proof fences.

Construction of Mallee Cliffs’ 9,750-hectare fenced area commenced in February 2020 and was completed in just 12 weeks. By September 2020, only six months later, the fenced area was declared Australia’s largest mainland feral predator-free haven and was ready for native wildlife reintroductions. Although construction went just as smoothly at Pilliga, with the 5,800-hectare fence being completed within three months from May 2017, the feral predator eradication took a little longer – 4.5 years to be exact.

The cause of this was an elusive fox, the chase for which would attract media notoriety. AWC dedicated over 10,400 trap nights, 73 shoot nights, 3,500 baits and more than 55 days with scent-tracking dogs trying to hunt the individual that evaded baits, traps and motion-sensor cameras. The fox has ultimately been confirmed as no longer in the feral predator-free fenced area by the absence of any records since flooding occurred in October 2022. The assumption is that the fox naturally succumbed to the influence of the weather or escaped the fenced area before repairs were affected to the flood-damaged fence.

Pilliga was officially declared feral predator-free in March 2023, a joyous month for all at AWC but more-so for Wayne Sparrow, AWC Regional Operations Manager (North-east) who led the exhaustive hunt.

Wayne Sparrow, AWC Regional Operations Manager (North-east) at the Pilliga fence line. Brad Leue/AWC
Wayne Sparrow, AWC Regional Operations Manager (North-east) at the Pilliga fence line.

“We knew when we locked up the fence that we had six cats and six foxes to remove and we were able to track them down and slowly count them down to the last fox,” Wayne explained. “The fox was a little shy and he would go AWOL at times, but we were always able to keep tabs on him.

“After the floods that ability to detect the fox suddenly stopped and he was never recorded again. We spent 80% of our control efforts and used around 150 motion-sensor cameras trying to find evidence of the fox’s presence but were unable to detect him. This made us very confident that he had met his match.”

With the final predator removed from inside the fence, how did Wayne and the field team celebrate?

“It was a big milestone for us and certainly the longest I found myself working on tracking a single animal. We had a few relaxing hours to savour the moment but were quick to move on because the eradication process was only intended to be a small part of the project and we didn’t want it to continue overshadowing the reintroduction project.”

The partnership has seen the endangered Shark Bay Bandicoot, a species extremely vulnerable to feral cats and foxes, reintroduced to the Pilliga safe haven. Brad Leue/AWC
The partnership has seen the endangered Shark Bay Bandicoot, a species extremely vulnerable to feral cats and foxes, reintroduced to the Pilliga safe haven.

Outside the Mallee Cliffs and Pilliga fenced areas, AWC has implemented intensive baiting programs to manage feral predators and is continually removing feral herbivores including goats. The feral predator control program uses a mix of ground baiting and canid pest-ejectors. At Mallee Cliffs, AWC is also currently trialling technology for feral pig control that allows traps to be remotely monitored using a mix of camera surveillance and instant messaging. Daniel Burton, AWC Operations Manager, believes the technology could eventually be used to control other feral animals including cats.

“It’s still early days but the technology could have the potential to help us in trapping cats or assist in remotely monitoring the fence and water levels in tanks which are being deployed for the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby reintroduction taking place later this year,” Daniel said.

In the future, Daniel is also hoping to utilise thermal drones to assist with monitoring fences for damage caused by kangaroos fighting from both sides of the fence.

The vast fenced feral predator-free safe haven at Mallee Cliffs National Park in New South Wales is twice the size of Manhattan (NY) and has seen seven locally extinct mammal species restored. For scale, note the person centre left. Wayne Lawler/AWC
The vast fenced feral predator-free safe haven at Mallee Cliffs National Park in New South Wales is twice the size of Manhattan (NY) and has seen seven locally extinct mammal species restored.


With fences up at both sites, AWC began work on the next phase of infrastructure, developing liveable quarters and working facilities. At both Mallee Cliffs and Pilliga, AWC has installed ensuite accommodation for eight people, a purpose-built science laboratory and full workshop and vehicle servicing facilities. Also installed are large rainwater tanks for both consumption and firefighting, wastewater treatment systems and basic power systems sufficient to run the facilities at full occupancy. Equipment storage containers and dedicated fuel and chemical storage facilities have also been completed.

Dr Vicki Stokes, AWC Senior Wildlife Ecologist who heads up AWC’s science program in the Pilliga, said the single person quarters and science lab have made a significant difference for the team, particularly in the way wildlife is handled and processed during translocations.

“For the Brush-tailed Bettong reintroduction in 2022, we had to create a makeshift lab by removing all the equipment from a storage container and bringing in folding tables,” Dr Stokes explained. “The team was cramped around these tables fitting the bettongs with transmitters and conduct health checks. We got the job done well but it wasn’t ideal.

“The science lab has been great in terms of facilitating translocations and reintroductions. Quite a lot of our animals have travelled big distances and it’s logistically impossible for us to get transmitters on them at the other end for a variety of reasons. The science lab has been critical for us to have that infrastructure and to allow us to do health checks on animals before they get released.”

Brad Leue/AWC
A Brush-tailed Bettong is released at the Pilliga in northern New South Wales, almost 100 years after the species disappeared from the region.


Curiosity around AWC and NPWS’ partnership and the reintroduction programs at both Mallee Cliffs and Pilliga has grown in recent years. AWC developed a Visitor Engagement Strategy and, in 2022, the public were invited inside the feral predator-free fenced areas to experience the results of the successful partnership first-hand via hosted visits.

Two hosted visits were implemented at each site in 2022 and again in 2023, all of which were completely booked out. This year, hosted visits took place in April.

Dr Rachel Ladd, AWC Wildlife Ecologist at Mallee Cliffs, said the hosted visits are an opportunity to see the work from an outside perspective.

“The hosted visits are a really important part of the job, it’s great exposure for the reintroduction program inside the feral predator-free area,” Dr Ladd explained. “It’s also nice to be reminded of how special the work is. Sometimes, when you’re in the thick of it, you can lose sight of how unique it is to see certain species every day.”


And finally, wildlife reintroductions – a key reason for the partnership. The agreement between AWC and NPWS revolves around the reintroduction of at least 11 locally extinct mammals to New South Wales.

“Between Mallee Cliffs and Pilliga, we have now returned 10 species to their former range,” said Dr Greg Holland, AWC Regional Ecologist (South-east). “It’s extraordinary seeing each species contribute to the restoration of healthy local ecosystems, particularly digging mammals such as the Burrowing Bettong and Shark Bay Bandicoot. They’re out there in western New South Wales right now turning over soil and dispersing fungi and seeds, as they did over a century ago.

“Beyond the environmental benefits, every reintroduction also plays an important role in restoring the historical mammal assemblage to New South Wales and provides additional insurance against collapse of populations elsewhere.”

An endangered Greater bilby released into the feral predator-proof fenced area in Pilliga National Park. northern New South Wales, part of the species recovery collaboration between the National Parks & Wildlife Service NSW and AWC. Wayne Lawler/AWC
A Greater Bilby released into the feral predator-free safe haven in Pilliga National Park, northern New South Wales.


Despite the delay with the feral predator eradication, AWC and NPWS have reintroduced five of the six planned species.

The reintroduction program launched in 2018, with the return of the beloved Greater Bilby. The long-eared mammal was released into a 680-hectare breeding area which was constructed within the larger safe haven. The Bilbies were joined by the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby in 2019, followed by the Brush-tailed Bettong in 2022. The three species remained in the breeding area until early 2023, when the entire fenced area was declared free of feral predators. AWC was then able to take down the dividing fence to enable dispersal across the entire fenced area and to reintroduce the threatened Plains Mouse in June 2023 and the endangered Shark Bay Bandicoot in September.

“All species released into the Pilliga so far are doing well, notably the Brush-tailed Bettongs which doubled in population within a 12-month period. They are dispersing across the fenced area, and over 70% of females that we’ve encountered have pouch young – that’s a really good sign that they’re continuing their population increase,” Dr Stokes said. “Similarly, the bandicoots are healthy and in good condition. Most females that we’ve encountered in breeding condition have had two pouch young. It’s all really positive signs so far.

“Before we started opening up the breeding area, we really started to notice a difference in the landscape between the breeding area and the wider fenced area. The Bilbies and Brush-tailed Bettongs had really started digging lots of burrows for shelter and food.”

Last on the reintroduction list in the Pilliga (for now) is one of Australia’s threatened carnivores, the Western Quoll. This species will prey upon some of the other reintroduced species, so we need to wait until populations have built up sufficiently to handle the additional predation, or conduct the release ‘outside the fence’.

Mallee Cliffs

Reintroductions commenced in October 2019, with the return of the Greater Bilby. In 2020, the Bilby was joined by the Greater Stick-nest Rat, followed by the Numbat and then one year later, the Brush-tailed Bettong and Red-tailed Phascogale. In April 2022, the Mitchell’s Hopping Mouse became the sixth species restored to the national park, followed by Burrowing Bettongs in 2023.

This year, AWC plans to reintroduce the Shark Bay Bandicoot and Bridled Nailtail Wallaby to Mallee Cliffs, before reintroducing the Western Quoll once populations of the smaller species have built up in numbers – or releasing it ‘outside the fence’.

Tali Moyle/AWC
This year AWC plans to reintroduce the endangered Bridled Nailtail Wallaby to Mallee Cliffs National Park.

“After three years of planning around the reintroduction, the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby is finally scheduled for release at Mallee Cliffs in May 2024,” Dr Ladd said. “Once the wallabies are released within the fenced area, we’ll have reintroduced eight of the 10 species planned for the national park, which is really exciting.

“Everything seems to be going well with the species we’ve released so far. We see a lot of the reintroduced animals on motion-sensor cameras. The Greater Bilby and Greater Stick-nest Rat have made a few camera appearances along with the Red-tailed Phascogale. The Burrowing Bettongs, which were the last to go in, haven’t had any mortalities and during a survey late last year, every female captured had a pouch young.”


Over the next two years, AWC will complete reintroductions within the two feral predator-free fenced areas and will install solar power to the operations bases. The contract and any additional term with NPWS will be reviewed during this period, but AWC has plans for the long term. The next stage of infrastructure development could include buildings containing kitchen and dining facilities and a large social space to support staff and visitor activities. Excitingly, AWC is developing a ‘beyond the fence’ strategy – requiring escalated feral animal control and monitoring – drawing on AWC’s research and experience at Scotia (NSW) and Mt Gibson (WA) wildlife sanctuaries.


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