Whilst we are all aware that humans are capable of great love, kindness, and thoughtfulness, despite this, many of our native species find it difficult to coexist alongside us or are impacted by our mistakes. That’s why across the state, countless dedicated organisations, volunteers, landowners, and researchers work tirelessly to care for the creatures and critters that call NSW home.
In many cases this hard works pays off. These stories sourced from the last 6 months alone, from every corner of the state, are examples of the care being taken to protect native species and are evidence that struggling populations can recover, sometimes they just need a helping hand.
First, we take you to Paika Lake in the states south-west, where in September last year 1000 southern pigmy perch were released into 2 wetlands on private land. The aim was to establish a base population for the locally extinct species and now in Feb 2023, the adults have settled in and are already beginning to breed. The water quality and aquatic plants are being monitored and if the perch population continues to grow, they will be used as a source to translocate the fish into other suitable wetlands in the Murrumbidgee water system.
In the Wee Jasper limestone caves not too far from Yass, the population of the tiny, 6 cm long eastern bentwing bat has increased by nearly 17%. The same population declined by one-third or around 7000 individuals in the years preceding the black summer bushfires, so their recovery is exciting, especially considering the site is one of only 3 known ‘maternity’ caves in NSW. They may be small, but this microbat can consume its own body weight in insects each night! To monitor the bats, researchers are using thermal imaging and software designed by the US military which records them entering and exiting caves each night to gain crucial information about their patterns.
Across the seas at Lord Howe Island back in 1918, a cargo ship ran aground accidentally releasing ship rats onto the island and causing a 100-year plague. Within 5 years several birds went extinct, and it was thought at this time that the Lord Howe Phasmid (stick insect affectionately known as the land lobster) was extinct too, until it was rediscovered in 2001 when scientists stumbled upon 3 adults clinging to a single melaleuca tea-tree, making worldwide news. 2 years later, two pairs were approved to be captured and breeding at the zoo commenced. Now, over 20 years on, 19,000 phasmids have been hatched over 16 generations. Although a survey undertaken in 2017 found only 16 individuals left in the wild, the zoo is looking to obtain additional phasmids from the wild population to strengthen the genetics of the captive breeding population and are also investigating options to return this species to the wild.
The very same rodent plague, also led to the Lord Howe Island Wood-feeding cockroach being declared extinct until it was rediscovered in July 2022! Genetic analysis shows the re-discovered cockroaches are indeed survivors, genetically different from those on the smaller offshore Blackburn Island which remained rodent free. Some might say that cockroaches have a branding problem, and as a result they can struggle to attract the funding of cuter, cuddlier endangered species, but it’s worth remembering that they are incredibly important nutrient recyclers. It’s believed strategic rodent baiting played a role in their survival and has also protected other threatened species such as the Lord Howe gecko, Lord Howe skink and a giant Placostylus land snail. In 2019, a full rodent eradication operation began on the island. The operations success is estimated to still be a year away however, the work has already helped more than 30 threatened species make a recovery.
Speaking of cute, cuddly endangered species, landholders are now being supported and incentivized to earn Carbon Credits by restoring koala habitat on their properties in a pilot program called Koala friendly Carbon Farming. The project was created to reconnect fragmented koala habitat, with the awareness that 50% of Koala habitat in NSW exists on private land. The NSW Government has committed $193 million to the target of doubling the number of Koala’s in the state by 2050. Landholders can apply for a property assessment to determine if there are koalas close by and whether their land is suitable.
55 Brush-Tailed Bettongs (fungi-eating, rat-kangaroos) were translocated from WA to a huge feral cat and fox free area in the Pilliga State Conservation Area south of Narrabri in late 2022. Now they have welcomed a new generation with the first baby (Bella) being born. The Bettong plays an important in the health of the forest as they shift soil around assisting with seed and spore dispersal and nutrient cycling. The population in the Pilliga is expected to grow to around 2,600 as 17 were already pregnant upon translocation!
In Sturt National Park in the top north-west corner of the state, the first golden bandicoots have been born in NSW in 100 years after the release of 27 individuals in May 2022. It’s reported that as the the bandicoots have such a short gestation period, their reproduction has already been rapid and numbers are flourishing. They follow in the footsteps of 3 success stories in the same park that of the Shark Bay Bandicoot, the Bilby and crest-tailed mulgaras which have all been released and are thriving in the area. The park has fenced feral free areas however the animals can still enter areas with feral predators too. The long-term goal of the project is to see the animals live beyond the fenced areas in the wider environment where feral predators are controlled or kept at low densities.
In Tallaganda National Park, inland from Batemans Bay, Greater gliders are moving into specially designed nest boxes installed last year to help them recover after the bushfires. Researchers were thrilled to discover individuals as well as families living together in the nest boxes. The boxes were specially designed to keep the gliders at just the right temperature including keeping them cool in forests warming up from climate change by incorporating insulation, air gaps and heat reflective and fire-resistant coatings.
The innovation continues on the North Coast of NSW, where the local Aboriginal community has been sharing their knowledge to provide new homes for the region’s golden-tipped bat population following the considerable loss of their habitat in the 2019–2020 bushfires. Gumbaynggirr elders and community members have been using traditional weaving techniques to create hand-made nests (imitating bird nests which the bats usually use) from locally sourced natural plant materials which are then being hung in golden-tipped bat habitat along with heat and motion sensor cameras so the project team can keep a close eye on which species are using the roosts and how often.
There are countless stories of progress and hope such as these; researchers have also recently been strapping tiny, solar-powered satellite backpacks to Plains Wanderers, releasing endangered southern corroboree frogs, spotted tree frogs and smoky mice and pouring water into newly created wetlands. The NSW government have also confirmed they have secured 605,500 hectares of land for conservation since 2019. When put together, all this work is helping to create a safer environment for our treasured native species to thrive.
Image source: https://www.nativefish.asn.au/home/page/Southern-Pygmy-Perch