Brush-tailed bettongs back on mainland South Australia after disappearing more than 100 years ago

One of Australia’s rarest marsupials, the brush-tailed bettong, has been reintroduced to mainland South Australia after being locally extinct for more than a century.

Forty of the nationally endangered animals were released at two sites in Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park on Yorke Peninsula this week in a milestone moment for Marna Banggara, an ambitious project to restore lost species to the landscape. The project is jointly funded through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board, the South Australian Department for Environment and Water, WWF-Australia and Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife, in partnership with the Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation and with the support of Traditional Custodians, the Narungga people.

The 28 females and 12 males were translocated from nearby Wedge Island, where an abundant population of more than 1,500 brush-tailed bettongs live. Health checks showed that many of the females were also carrying pouch young.

Brush-tailed bettongs once occupied more than 60% of mainland Australia but introduced predators like feral cats and foxes, and habitat loss has pushed the species to the brink of extinction. The small marsupial has only survived in tiny pockets of Western Australia, offshore islands in South Australia and a handful of fenced sanctuaries.

“More than a century ago, they were wiped out locally by feral predators and their return is a major step in rewilding research and of enormous significance to the local Narungga community,” said Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley.

Most of the bettongs have been fitted with a radio-tracking collar so researchers can monitor the progress of the animals.

Dr Liberty Olds, Conservation Manager at Zoos SA, who was part of the translocation from Wedge Island to Yorke Peninsula, said: “After more than a decade of planning, it was amazing to see brush-tailed bettongs bounding back into the bushland on Yorke Peninsula. We’ll monitor their movements and, hopefully, see that they are thriving in their new home.”

Also known as a woylie, the species was selected as the first to be reintroduced to the southern Yorke Peninsula due to the important role it plays in ecosystems as ‘nature’s gardener’. Brush-tailed bettongs spread native plant seeds and dig up between two to six tonnes of dirt and leaf litter each year, which improves water infiltration, nutrient cycling and helps native plants grow.

This pilot release is the first of several planned reintroductions, with 80 West Australian bettongs and 80 South Australian bettongs set for translocation during the next two years. Other locally extinct species such as the southern brown bandicoot, red-tailed phascogale and western quoll will also be reintroduced to the landscape to help restore biodiversity.

“What’s unique about Marna Banggara is that it is part of a working landscape, where reintroduced native species will make their home next door to farms, popular beaches and towns. The first release is an important first step in testing this concept, which we hope will bring flow-on benefits to farm production, tourism and the wider Yorke Peninsula community,” said Caroline Schaefer, Northern and Yorke Landscape Board’s Chair.

A 25-kilometre predator control fence across the foot of the peninsula is designed to help protect native species from predators creating a 150,000-hectare safe haven comprising Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park, remnant vegetation, conservation parks, farmland and small townships.

“To aid the success of the brush-tailed bettongs in their new environment, our rangers have been working with the other project partners to reduce fox and feral cat numbers in Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park and surrounding areas,” said Mike Williams, National Parks and Wildlife Service Executive Director.

If successful, Marna Banggara could become a model for transforming altered landscapes in other areas of Australia.

“This project is about helping nature to help itself. Many of our native plants need native animals to survive and thrive, so when we restore lost species to the landscape, we help to regenerate Australia and re-establish the relationships that allow nature to flourish,” said Darren Grover, WWF-Australia’s Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes.

Honouring the area’s Traditional Custodians, the Narungga People, the name Marna Banggara originates from the Narungga dialect, with marna meaning ‘healthy or prosperous’ and banggara signifying ‘Country’.

Other partners actively involved in developing and delivering the project include Regional Development Australia, South Australian Tourism Commission, Zoos SA, FAUNA Research Alliance, BirdLife Australia, Nature Conservation Society of SA, Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation, Primary Producers SA, Primary Industries and Regions SA, Conservation Volunteers Australia, Legatus Group, Yorke Peninsula Council, Yorke Peninsula Tourism and Scientific Expedition Group.

Find out more at marnabanggara.com.au