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Author: Calla Wahlquist
Date: 9 December, 2014

Perth zoo is preparing to release 14 numbats in Western Australia in an effort to rebuild one of the last remaining wild populations.

Numbats were common throughout southern Australia before feral cats, foxes and spreading farmland reduced the population to two isolated pockets of WA – Dryandra woodland, 170km south-east of Perth, and Perup state forest near Manjimup.

Since the 1980s, five more populations of the marsupial anteaters have been established in WA and one each in New South Wales and South Australia. There are now about 1,000 numbats in the wild.

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Perth zoo is preparing to release 14 numbats in Western Australia in an effort to rebuild one of the last remaining wild populations.

Numbats were common throughout southern Australia before feral cats, foxes and spreading farmland reduced the population to two isolated pockets of WA – Dryandra woodland, 170km south-east of Perth, and Perup state forest near Manjimup.

Since the 1980s, five more populations of the marsupial anteaters have been established in WA and one each in New South Wales and South Australia. There are now about 1,000 numbats in the wild.

But Friday’s planned release in Dryandra would be the first time captive animals – bred by Perth zoo and the Department of Parks and Wildlife since 1987 – had been released back into the wild.

Department principal scientist Tony Friend has selected 14 hollow logs in the release site and said the animals would have a few days to get used to their radio collars before going into their new home.

“We’ll release them in the late afternoon, so they can stay in for the night to adjust,” he said.

Once released, the animals will be tracked using aerial patrols. Adult numbats live in non-overlapping territories of up to 60 hectares.

Friend said intensive baiting protected the 100-strong Dryandra population from foxes, but feral cat activity in the area was increasing.

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Perth Zoo senior keeper Lisa Mantellato said the captive breeding program relied on animals captured in Dryandra to provide genetic diversity and could not survive without a healthy wild population.

 

“If the wild populations aren’t sustainable, I can’t see much hope for us at all,” she said.

Western Australia was the first state to successfully breed numbats in captivity, after an Irish animal keeper named Dick Whitford found a suitable food – an “eggy custard” used to nurse baby echidnas – to supplement the animal’s 20,000-termite-a-day diet.

The zoo has 32 adult numbats, including the 14 slated for release.

Mantellato said the expense of getting fresh termites, which involves contractors setting traps using 44-gallon drums filled with damp wood, prevented the zoo from expanding its breeding program.

“Even if we had more enclosures [for breeding pairs], then we would need more termites,” she said.

“Breastfeeding numbats can eat up to 40,000 termites a day – that’s a lot of termites.”

Read the article at The Guardian