Brush-tailed bettong in hand, Yorke Peninsula

1 May 2022


A southern Yorke Peninsula born brush-tailed bettong has been found. And if that’s not enough, that female also had a young joey in her pouch!

"Bettongs are really fast breeders," explains Derek Sandow, a Landscape Ecologist from Northern and Yorke Landscape Board.

“They're what we consider a boom or bust animal, and female bettongs can start breeding from around six months after they're born. So, for eight out of ten females to have pouch young at this time of the year is really encouraging for the team. It indicates that there's lots of food and that they're enjoying the new habitat. It means that coming into winter, there's probably going to be a boost in breeding, and the numbers can really start to grow in this population.”

Because returning native species and increasing their numbers is what Marna Banggara is all about. Named in honour of the area’s Traditional Custodians, the Narungga people, Marna Bangggara means ‘healthy or prosperous country’.

A collaborative effort, Marna Banggara is a landscape restoration project designed to create a safe haven for some of Australia’s most threatened native species to reinvigorate this spectacular landscape and benefit the community, economy and agriculture on Yorke Peninsula, and above all, help turn the tide on our nationwide extinction crisis.

Bettongs are digging their new home

But how did it all start? In August 2021, 40 brush-tailed bettongs from Wedge Island, South Australia were translocated to Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park on southern Yorke Peninsula in South Australia and released at two sites.

The brush-tailed bettong, or woylie as they are traditionally known in Western Australia, has a reputation as a soil engineer and for being hugely important for the ecosystems in which they live. It’s for this reason that these furry marsupials were chosen to be the first of a number of species to be reintroduced.

Wasting no time living up to their reputation, the brush-tailed bettongs have already been at work. Signs of digging are already visible to the conservationists involved as well as visitors to the Park. Chloe Frick, a PhD student at Adelaide University, explains the importance of these fantastic findings.

“The bettongs turn over the soil, which allows for native seeds to regenerate. It also provides a little divot for the wind to blow in native seeds and then for it to grow from there. The bettongs have the capacity to completely revegetate this landscape using their digging and their soil engineering capabilities.”

Brush-tailed bettong diggings in Yorke Peninsula
Brush-tailed bettong diggings in Yorke Peninsula © WWF-Australia / Ninti Media

Mark Davison, the Senior Ranger at Dhilba-Guuranda-Innes National Park adds,

“It's quite noticeable how much they're turning the soil over and the impact they're having on one of the significant weeds we have in the park, which is a Cape tulip. They're actually digging the bulbs out and eating the bulbs, which then, in turn, destroys the plant. It's a good result for us as far as we can see so far, for the management of the landscape.”

Welcoming the third-generation of bettongs

Everything looked good from a distance, but to better understand how these bettongs were doing, they needed a closer look. Six months after their release, the bettongs were given a health check. Conservationists checked their weight, size and pouches to get a clearer picture of the population numbers. And in what could have been a direct quote from the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, we’re pretty sure someone on the team yelled out, “We got one!”

Brush-tailed bettong in hand= Yorke Peninsula
Brush-tailed bettong in hand, Yorke Peninsula © Dr. Raphael Eisenhofer

"We're really excited," says Derek Sandow.

“The most exciting discovery for the team has actually been to find the very first Southern Yorke Peninsula born bettong. And what was even more exciting was that the individual had her own pouch young, a really tiny little jelly bean. It's been a fantastic week for the team here as part of Marna Banggara.”

A third-generation bettong is a great start, and exactly that, a start.

What’s next for Marna Banggara?

The next step will be to reintroduce another 80 bettongs. 40 from Western Australia and another 40 from nearby Wedge Island, with other locally extinct species like the southern brown bandicoot, red-tailed phascogale, and western quoll to follow.

Patrick Giumelli, WWF-Australia’s Rewilding Program Ecologist, defines the project at its most basic level as ‘putting back nature’. He explains,

“We’re using natural processes to restore ecosystems that might have been degraded from various activities in the past. Basically, using nature to heal nature.”

Dr Kita Ashman= Patrick Giumelli and Chloe Frick perform a brush-tailed bettong health check in Yorke Peninsula
© WWF-Australia / Ninti Media

He says reintroducing additional bettongs from other areas, “will help us increase genetic diversity, which will set this population up for the long-term.” Adding,

“This is on-the-ground conservation at its best. We're bringing in multiple partners from across the community. We've got Traditional Owners who have been heavily involved in the project, and we’re putting back species where they should be, using those species to help restore the landscape to what it once was.”

It’s a key element of the Marna Banggara project and a key element of Regenerate Australia. So, keep those eyes peeled because it won’t be long before we have even more exciting discoveries.

This project is jointly funded through the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board, the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, the South Australian Department for Environment and Water, WWF-Australia and Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife. 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 the Scientific Expedition Group.