A report into the dramatic decline of woylies throughout south-western Australia has found a mysterious disease may be decimating the species.
Speaking today at Murdoch University, Environment Minister David Templeman said although the exact disease remained a mystery, researchers had identified some key suspects, including the parasite ‘Toxoplasma’ and a new species of parasite ‘Trypanosoma sp. nov’.
“It is likely this disease is either killing the woylies or weakening them and making them more vulnerable to predators,” Mr Templeman said.
The Minister said the dramatic decline in woylie numbers since 2001 meant the small kangaroo-like mammal was again in need of special protection.
“As a result, the woylie has been re-listed on Western Australia’s updated threatened species list to ensure it is given maximum protection and the best opportunity to again thrive,” he said.
“The effects of threatened listing include higher statutory protection, higher penalties for the illegal removal of species of up to $10,000, and higher priority for research, recovery planning and management.
“Threatened listing also leads to increased focus during environmental impact assessment, land-use planning and assessment of vegetation clearing applications.”
Mr Templeman said the woylie had been de-listed in 1996, as it no longer met the criteria to be listed as ‘threatened’ following a population recovery thanks to fox control and translocation programs undertaken in the South-West by the Department of Environment and Conservation.
“In 2001, the woylie population reached a peak of around 40,000 individuals,” he said.
“But there has been an estimated 70 to 80 per cent decline in woylie numbers since that time, which is tragic.”
The Minister said the Carpenter Government had allocated $626,000 to a major research program into the woylie.
“The program, headed by the Department of Environment and Conservation’s Dr Adrian Wayne, involved key collaborating agencies including Murdoch University, Perth Zoo and the non-government organisation, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy,” Mr Templeman said.
“There has also been representation from the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage, The University of Western Australia and the University of Adelaide.”
The Minister said all the collaborators, as well as the South-West Catchments Council, had been generous with their time and expertise.
“More than 85 experts and 120 volunteers have been working long and hard to help the woylie,” he said.
“The collaborations are the greatest strength of the research project and provide us with the greatest prospects to solving what is a very complex mystery.
“Today’s symposium and tomorrow’s workshop will be crucial in focusing on how we can act now for future and to protect WA’s unique biodiversity and do our very best to ensure the survival of the woylie.”
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