Name: Kangaroo Island dunnart (Sminthopsis aitkeni).
Size: Length: head-body 80-90mm, and tail 85-105mm. Weight: up to 25g.
Diet: Carnivorous – will eat any insects it can find.
Habitat/Range: The Kangaroo Island dunnart is only found on the western end of Kangaroo Island, Australia’s third largest island, situated 14km off the South Australian coast. The dunnart lives within the high rainfall areas of the western end’s mallee woodland with recent habitat modelling showing it occupies only 8% of the island’s total landmass.
Conservation Status: EPBC Endangered.
Superpower/fun fact: The Kangaroo Island dunnart is an expert at avoiding capture by standard survey methods such as pitfall trapping and Elliot trapping. Prior to the broadscale use of camera traps on driftline fences, the KI dunnart was essentially undetectable with several researchers putting in thousands of trap nights with little to no success. The vain KI dunnart however cannot resist being photographed on camera traps and is regularly detected strutting its stuff most nights on western KI.
Within an already limited habitat in the western end of Kangaroo Island, radio telemetry has shown the KI dunnart also has a small home range with movements of only 200-300m from shelter sites. Several shelter sites are regularly used by individual animals and these range from grass trees to small burrows, thick leaf litter and fallen hollow logs.
One KI dunnart radio tracked this year sheltered and foraged regularly 3m up in large brown stringybark trees! But the life of a KI dunnart isn’t always solitary, recent radio telemetry and camera trapping also showed several KI dunnarts using the same shelter sites. It may not be a family unit bunking together, instead it could be more like a share house.
Though we don’t know exactly how many of them there are overall, as its very difficult to obtain a reliable density estimate, camera trapping data and successful live trapping data has shown two main peaks in populations. This suggests the KI dunnart has two breeding events per year, with the largest breeding event happening in December.
The entire known and predicted range of the KI dunnart was burnt in the 2019/2020 Black Summer Bushfires and surviving KI dunnarts were highly susceptible to predation by feral cats. After the fires, stomach content analysis showed that more than 8% of culled feral cats were confirmed KI dunnart killers, which was higher than predicted. As a result, intensive feral cat control occurred for two years after the Black Summer Bushfires on the western end of the island.
Currently, widespread post-fire surveys have shown the KI dunnart is in reasonable numbers but still confined to a small area on the island. Continued feral cat management on the western end of KI will hopefully ensure the enigmatic KI dunnart persists into the future.
Voting for Australian Mammal of the Year is now open!
Visit our voting page here to learn more about the categories and to vote for your picks for Australian Mammal of the Year.