A new colony of Gilbert’s potoroos - Australia’s rarest marsupial - has been found on the slopes of Mt Gardner in the Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve east of Albany.
Scientists from the Department of Conservation and Land Management and members of the Albany-based Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group found the colony as part of the survey and monitoring work under the recovery plan for the species.
Environment and Heritage Minister Judy Edwards said the find brought to five the number of known wild colonies of the species.
The potoroo was rediscovered in December 1994 by University of Western Australia zoology students Elizabeth Sinclair and Adrian Wayne, who trapped several individuals while searching for quokkas. Until then, it had not been recorded for 125 years.
“The new colony comprises one adult male, an adult female with a large pouch young, and a sub-adult male and female,” Dr Edwards said.
“The researchers taped transmitters on to their tails and the animals have remained in the area where they were captured.
“It is an extremely encouraging discovery as we had earlier captured, but subsequently lost track of three of these animals from other locations on Mt Gardner.
“The fact that they had not died but moved from their former home ranges and established a new colony up to three kilometres away, and that the adult female is breeding, indicates the Mt Gardner population is in a healthy state.
“When a population of a species gets down to about 30 animals - which effectively was the known population of Gilbert’s potoroos - then the species really is in trouble.
“But the discovery of this new colony at this stage seems to indicate the species is rallying.”
Dr Edwards said another encouraging factor was that the discovery also showed that fox baiting was having an impact.
“Native animals the size of Gilbert’s potoroo - they only weigh approximately one kilogram - are about the top of the fox’s preferred menu,” she said.
“So it would seem we have virtually removed one of the biggest threats to the species’ survival.
“However, we still have a very long way to go before we can be certain that the species won’t become extinct. The five known colonies are restricted to an area of only about 50ha on Mt Gardner, which extends over 1,000ha.
“A major concern is that any unplanned fire that burnt substantial tracts of the animal’s preferred habitat in the heathlands could be a disaster. Consequently, one of the priorities is to establish another population elsewhere.”
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