Environment Minister Judy Edwards today released details of a bold scientific plan which is attempting to secure and increase the population and status of the critically endangered Gilbert’s potoroo (Potorous gilbertii).
Dr Edwards said in a bid to boost the population of the species, which currently consists of fewer than 40 animals worldwide, the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) has begun a trial translocation of two animals to Bald Island Nature Reserve, off the south coast east of Albany.
“At present, the Gilbert’s potoroo only exists at Mt Gardner in Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve and its population is so critically endangered that the establishment of another population is essential,” she said.
“CALM has begun a trial translocation of Gilbert’s potoroos to Bald Island to gather comprehensive information on the ability of the species to survive in a different environment and eventually to create a second viable wild population.
“CALM Research Scientist Dr Tony Friend and his team translocated one male and one female potoroo to the island four weeks ago. The trial involves monitoring their movements and condition to determine whether the environment can support the species.
“The animals have been fitted with activity-sensing tail transmitters and CALM researchers have been monitoring them by daily radio tracking and occasional trapping. Their diet on the island will be determined by analysis of faecal samples.
“If any of the animals are found to have lost 15 per cent or more in body weight since release or to otherwise be in poor condition, they will be transferred back to captivity on the mainland.
“So far, all monitoring results indicate that the animals are adapting well. At the end of the six-week trial, the animals will be recaptured and removed from the island.”
Dr Edwards said Bald Island was chosen, as its climate was similar to Two Peoples Nature Reserve, it had potentially-suitable habitat for the survival of the species and was free of foxes and cats.
The Gilbert’s potoroo was the centre of one of the most exciting recent biological finds, when a PhD student rediscovered it in November 1994 at Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve. The species was last recorded some time between 1874 and 1879.
Since then, significant research has been undertaken into the animal’s conservation needs and towards locating other populations. So far none has been found.
A Gilbert’s potoroo is a one-kilogram relative of kangaroos that feeds almost exclusively on underground fungi. Its snout is slender and slightly curved downwards and its face has heavy, furry jowls. Its forefeet have long curved claws for digging and the tail is lightly furred, curling up tightly when the animal is at rest.
The preferred habitat of the species at Two Peoples Bay is in dense sedges among melaleuca heaths where underground fungi are abundant. These marsupials are nocturnal and the female holds her single young in a pouch for up to four months before weaning.
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