Prior to European settlement, the Numbat (Myrmecobius faciatus) – a charismatic little marsupial – ranged extensively across southern (semi-arid and arid) Australia from western New South Wales through South Australia and the southern Northern Territory to the south-west of Western Australia where it thrived in grasslands and Eucalypt and Acacia woodlands.
230 years on, the surviving population of the Numbat is so reduced it has been classified as Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Original (wild) populations are found only in pockets of woodland in the Dryandra and Perup forests in the south-west of Western Australia.
Predation by introduced predators is the primary cause of this decline, in particular European Red Fox and feral cats which, together, have seriously threatened the survival of the Numbat.
The species has also suffered from habitat destruction and land clearing for agriculture, driving the last remaining Numbats out into open grasslands where they are vulnerable to predation or deep into the last pockets of woodland where they are at risk of population fragmentation. Changes in fire regimes have also caused problems for the Numbat’s survival because wildfires leave surviving Numbats exposed to cats and foxes and affect their food supplies.
In 1993, in response to the dire conservation status, a Numbat Recovery Team was established to coordinate recovery efforts. Today, the team includes representatives from the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife, Perth Zoo, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Project Numbat Inc and Arid Recovery.
Breeding for Release
Perth Zoo established its Numbat breed-for-release program in 1987, studying and perfecting the species’ reproductive biology over the next five years. The first successful breeding was in 1992. In the years since, refinements in the husbandry, diet and breeding approaches has meant an increase in the number of animals born and available for release.
At eleven months of age, the young Numbats are weaned and begin their preparation for release into the wild.
The first release of Perth Zoo-bred Numbats into the wild took place in 1993. Since then, more than 220 Numbats bred at the Zoo have been released by Parks & Wildlife into natural habitat (as at January 2017). These Numbats have been released into the Karroun Hill Nature Reserve (WA), Stirling Range National Park (WA), Boyagin Nature Reserve(WA), Tutanning Nature Reserve (WA), Batalling State Forest (WA), Coconarup Timber Reserve (WA), Dale Conservation Park (WA) and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Scotia Sanctuary (NSW), Yookamurra (SA) and Mt Gibson (WA).
Partners and Supporters
The Numbat breed-for-release program is run by Perth Zoo in partnership with Parks and Wildlife.
Perth Zoo also supports Project Numbat, a not-for-profit community organisation raising awareness about the Numbat and conservation, and who generously provide funds for the radio collars which the released Numbats wear, enabling researchers to track their wild development.