Critically endangered rock wallabies bounce back in Grampians

Monday 9 December, 2019

Evidence of four new brush-tailed rock-wallabies has been found in the Grampians National Park, raising hopes that a population of the critically endangered species can be re-established.

The rock-wallabies became locally extinct in the Grampians in 1999, before a recovery team commenced a breeding program. In 2008, the rock-wallaby was re-introduced to the Grampians where Parks Victoria closely monitors and protects the colony by controlling introduced predators such as foxes.

The discovery was made after DNA was extracted from wallaby scats (droppings). Analysis by researchers at the University of Adelaide and FAUNA Research Alliance confirmed the scats were of four new wallabies that had been born in the wild from within the existing colony of just five animals.

In a further boost, two male wallabies that were bred at the Mount Rothwell Conservation and Research Reserve have been released into the park to improve the colony’s genetic diversity.

The wallabies will soon benefit from additional protection, with large-scale feral cat control commencing in winter 2020, a project funded by the Victorian Government’s $33.67 million Biodiversity Response Planning program.

Weighing between 6–8kg and standing around 60cm tall, brush‐tailed rock‐wallabies are smaller than most other species of wallaby. As the name suggests, it has a bushy tip on its tail, which provides balance as it traverses a rocky habitat of cliffs, ledges, crevices and caves.

Thought to have become extinct in Victoria following extensive hunting for its meat and fur throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the wallaby was rediscovered in 1937 and is now considered one of Victoria’s most endangered mammals.

Once common in south-eastern Victoria, the species has a national conservation status as vulnerable and is critically endangered in Victoria. The only other known colony in Victoria is living in the Snowy River National Park.

The Schultz Foundation and WWF-Australia funded the DNA analysis which was conducted after Park Rangers and researchers from the University of Adelaide and FAUNA Research Alliance collected more than 200 scats from the wild.

Biodiversity Response Planning is an area-based planning approach to biodiversity conservation in Victoria, comprising 85 on-ground projects as part of an $86.3 million investment to implement Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio:

“It’s great to see the hard work of so many people paying off as we strive to protect and re-establish this critically-endangered species.”

“In the last four years we’ve delivered more than $184 million to protect Victoria’s native plants and wildlife.

Quotes attributable to Dr Mark Norman, Chief Conservation Scientist–Parks Victoria:

“This is very exciting news and a great example of science and on-ground conservation interventions coming together to protect and recover the most vulnerable of our unique threatened native species.”

“In this case, for a very special wallaby that is a cliff specialist – like a mountain goat that hops.”

Quotes attributable to Mike Stevens, Team Leader Environment and Heritage–Parks Victoria:

“National parks are critical to providing habitat and protection for Victoria’s most threatened native species and partnerships across government, non-government organisations and research institutions are essential for successful conservation programs.”

“Recovering our local population of brush-tailed rock-wallabies has been a slow, challenging process, but we are encouraged by finding new animals that have been born and are surviving in the wild.”

“We hope that the release of two new males, aided by integrated fox and feral cat control, takes the recovery team closer towards establishing a stable colony and keeps us heading towards the longer-term vision of returning the species back to the Grampians.”

Quotes attributable to Dr David Taggart, University of Adelaide / FAUNA Research Alliance:
“Finding these new ‘Fab 4’ is just a fantastic reward for all involved in brush-tailed rock wallaby conservation in Victoria.

“This is a great endorsement of all the hard yakka that Parks Victoria staff, scientists, recovery team, funding organisations and Grampians supporters have put in across many years monitoring these animals and protecting this fledgling colony from foxes.”    

Quotes attributable to Dr Adam Crawford, University of Adelaide:
“DNA analysis of animal scats, hair and other biological material is revolutionising the monitoring of rare and endangered wildlife and cryptic animals, like the brush-tailed rock wallaby, and in the process uncovering all sorts of hidden secrets about them.”

Quotes attributable to Shannon Kleeman, Honours research student, University of Adelaide:
“Little black nuggets of gold – that’s what we like to call rock wallaby scat.”

“The information you can glean from a single scat is just amazing – an animal’s identification, gender, parents, genetic health, it’s all there, just waiting to be revealed.”



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