Western Australia’s mammal emblem, the Numbat, has suffered a staggering decrease in population since the arrival of Europeans in Australia.
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.
Two hundred and thirty years on, the surviving population of the Numbat is so reduced it has been classified as Endangeredon 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.
There are three major threats affecting Numbat populations;
- introduced predators (foxes and cats),
- changes to fire regimes,
- land clearing.
European settlement brought with it widespread land clearing, introduced predators (foxes and cats) and changes in fire regimes which, in combination led, to a major decline in Numbat numbers and a severe contraction of their range.
Foxes, cats and fire are still major threats to the remaining populations of Numbats.
Research has shown that controlling introduced predators is essential in order for Numbats to thrive. Changes in fire regimes have resulted in hotter more intense fires which can affect Numbats through the reduction of cover (thickets and hollow logs), leaving them more exposed to predators, and may also decrease the Numbat’s food supply.
The reduction in Numbat numbers and the isolation of the remaining populations has created a new threat to the Numbat’s survival which is the risk of genetic decline.
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 244 Numbats bred at the Zoo have been released by Parks & Wildlife into natural habitat (as at April 2018).
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 and the Numbat Recovery Team.
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.