It’s rare to find a sanctuary for native flora and fauna in the capital city of a country, but Mulligan’s Flat Woodland Sanctuary is one of those rarities. This sanctuary encloses over 400 hectares of critically endangered yellow box and red gum grassy woodland. But it’s the little guys who call the woodlands home that are the centre of this epic conservation effort. Eastern Bettong’s (Bettongia gaimardi) are positively cute, but they are also an ecological important for soil aeration as they dig for truffles and other fungi. Bettongs are woodland-dwelling, rabbit-sized kangaroo like marsupials. These little creatures were once local inhabitants of South-eastern Australia but where driven to extinction by our introduced predators and land alteration causing a scarcity of native grassy woodlands, one of their natural habitats. Until the mulligans flat project the Bettongs only existed in Tasmania.
This has been a serious issue for much of the Australian wildlife and the Mulligan’s flat sanctuary is one step to building a stronghold where these defenceless bettongs can be reintroduced into the mainland. A stronghold with a large predator proof fence and unsullied environment is a start but my experience with a team of researchers at the ANU shows that there is still a lot of work and research to be done to secure a future for this native Australian species.
Does this mean we’ve found a national solution for declining native species? I wouldn’t Bet-tong it… But it is logically and economically better than trying to trap all the wild foxes, cats and other foreign predators in areas to accommodate for safe bettong habitats. Maybe box traps for curious cats will work… maybe not.
There is a lot more than just letting them live and breed in this sanctuary to make this a viable conservational effort. As the bettong’s are nocturnal animal’s researchers who monitor the progress of the species in Mulligan’s flat work from around 2am to sunrise in what can be freezing cold nights, checking traps and tagging individuals while recording all manner of data of the individual. In my first night of bettong monitoring I encountered several untagged bettongs which required the full shebang of DNA collection (blood, fur, and scat) body measurements and weight. This was to see how the condition of the individuals was developing in the sanctuary. On 4 occasion in one night mother bettongs had dropped their young out of their pouch. It’s a difficult task in the early hours of the morning to try place the baby back in its mother’s pouch. In the rare occurrence where they aren’t able to do this the baby goes into care until it is able to be reintroduced to the sanctuary. It seems traumatic but the baby bettongs such as baby Erika have been successfully reintroduced to the sanctuary.
A small sanctuary in the capital city of Australia can be a significant method to stopping the decline in some of our beloved native species.