First Nations-led WA wildlife sanctuary helps return endangered golden bandicoots to NSW

A century after their local extinction, a group of golden bandicoots has made a 2000km charter flight from outback Western Australia to the Strzelecki Desert in far-west New South Wales.

The Wild Deserts project, a collaboration between University of New South Wales scientists and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, consulted with Matuwa Traditional Owners, represented by the Tarlka Matuwa Piarku Aboriginal Corporation, in translocating the bandicoots.

About 40 bandicoots were released in late May into a 2000-hectare feral-proof fenced “exclosure”, from which feral cats, foxes and rabbits have been eradicated.

“Their absence from the desert ecosystem has definitely been missed,”

Rebecca West, Wild Deserts

They joined a population of greater bilbies established in the area last year.

Wild Deserts principal ecologist Rebecca West says the bandicoot’s role as an “ecosystem engineer” would help restore the health of the desert range.

“Their absence from the desert ecosystem has definitely been missed,” she says.

“They also capitalise on good conditions and are able to breed throughout the year.”

The bandicoots shelter in thick shrubs and spinifex, and turn over the soil by digging for their food, helping with nutrient cycling and plant growth.

27 golden bandicoots were relocated from Matuwa in the central desert of Western Australia. Credit: Tom Hunt / Wild Deserts

The marsupials were translocated from the Matuwa Kurrara Kurrara Indigenous Protected Area, a reserve located in the central Western Australian desert on Martu Country.

Wiluna Rangers environment and operations manager Dorian Moro says it was one of two recent translocation projects involving important native species.

“Wild Deserts approached TMPAC and the IPA (Matuwa Kurrara Kurrara Indigenous Protected Area) team and asked permission for removing the golden bandicoots from their country and re-introducing them back to the Traditional Owners over east,” Moro says.

“The IPA team supported that, as long as our Traditional Owners are involved in a partnership (and) as long as the rangers are involved in taking the animals from their Country to the other Country.”

“It is a good opportunity for rangers to take part and to connect with other Traditional Owners and be part of the process.”

Dorian Moro, Wiluna Rangers

The other relocation involved burrowing bettongs, known in WA as “boodies”, to Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northern Territory.

“As long as there are sufficient animals in Matuwa for translocation, it is possible to take a serious number of animals,” Moro says.

“Twenty to 25 boodies went to Newhaven – a good number to start a population elsewhere where they were previously extinct.

Read also: Shark Bay bandicoot: a pint-sized ecosystem engineer

“It is a good opportunity for rangers to take part and to connect with other Traditional Owners and be part of the process.”

Wongkumara and Maljangapa representatives, the Traditional Owners of Sturt National Park, welcomed the Wiluna Martu rangers and the golden bandicoots to their Country.

The translocation was an opportunity for cultural connection and exchange between the Traditional Owner groups, and the arrival of the fourth locally extinct species to Wild Deserts was another milestone in restoring the desert.

Golden Bandicoots were extinct in the local area for over 100 years, but they are now the fourth mammal species Wild Deserts has reintroduced into this landscape. Credit: Tom Hunt / Wild Deserts

West says the bandicoots were doing well in their new home.

“We engaged early on with the Traditional Owners of Matuwa when planning this translocation, gaining their support,” she says.

“We have also worked closely with our colleagues from the WA Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions to organise the logistics around this translocation.”

The golden bandicoot is a significant species to the Wangkumara and Maljangapa people. The Sturt National Park project is part of the NSW government’s $40-million feral-predator-free area partnerships project, which is returning at least 13 mammal species currently extinct in NSW back into the wild.

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