A critically endangered rat-sized marsupial that looks like a mini kangaroo is returning to parts of Australia for the first time in a century
- Brush-tailed bettongs are thriving in Southern Australia after being reintroduced in 2021.
- These cute, kangaroo-looking marsupials have been critically endangered for decades.
For years, brush-tailed bettongs, a critically endangered marsupial native to Australia, have lived on isolated nature reserves in Australia, but a new program reintroducing them back to the wild has been met with success.
Wildlife scientists part of a conservation project known as Marna Banggara introduced nearly 120 of these bettongs, also called woylies, to the Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park in South Australia's Yorke Peninsula, in 2021.
Two years later, the scientists began trapping the animals — luring them in with peanut butter and oats — and discovered that many of them were newborns, according to a press release from the World Wildlife Fund, indicating that the populations were thriving in the area.
According to the results of their monitoring of 85 bettongs, 40% of them were newborns, according to the release. Nearly all the females that they studied also had newborns in their pouches.
Chloe Frick, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Adelaide, told the Guardian that there could be up to 200 woylies in the area.
"It's surpassing everyone's expectations," Frick told the Guardian.
The cute, beady-eyed creature, which usually is no taller than 18 inches and hops on its hind legs like a kangaroo, has been nearly wiped out from Southern Australia over the past 150 years due to habitat loss and the introduction of feral predators like European foxes and cats by colonizers.
As populations declined from the millions to thousands, they could only be found in captivity, in carefully controlled nature preserves, or on islands free from predators. Now, in the York Peninsula experiment, there is hope that more of these critters can be reintroduced to the wild — if conservationists can control feral fox and cat populations in the area.
"If this population can be sustained over time, it would be the first successful reintroduction of this species beyond islands and fenced safe-havens," Rob Brewster, WWF-Australia's Rewilding Project manager, said in the press release.
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