While I was in Western Australia, we took the opportunity to go to Barna Mia, a wildlife sanctuary for endangered mammals run by the Department of Environment and Conservation. Located in the Dryandra Woodland, Barna Mia is primarily a breeding facility for small endangered mammals that sadly in most cases are now extinct on the mainland. The idea is that species are bred in captivity and released back into existing or new populations in the wild where fox numbers are kept low through predator control. This work was successful for a number of years until it became apparent that the fox control had some unintended consequences: the dreaded meso-predator release where the removal of foxes led to an increase in the number of feral cats. The newly established populations of small mammals were largely wiped out and releases back into the wild have been put on hold until DEC can figure out how to successfully control the cats.
In the meantime, Barna Mia is open to the public for evening viewings of interesting nocturnal beasts, so we went along to check out some of the inhabitants. Held in a 4ha fenced enclosure, animals are attracted to viewing stations just after dark by offerings of food which supplements their natural diet. We sat quietly and searched for animals using red spotlights while a ranger explained the ecology of each species as we spotted it. It was an interesting evening and we were rewarded with five new species to check off the list (not that I would do such twitcher-esque things!) . So today you are treated to a menagerie of mammalian delights* (plus a bonus owl).
The bilby (dalgyte – Macrotis lagotis) has to be one of the weirder looking marsupials out there. With rabbit-like ears, an anteater-ish snout and a long tail, they are definitely hard to confuse with their closest relatives, the bandicoots. They are omnivorous and excellent burrowers, creating extensive underground tunnels. Interestingly, a bilby’s pouch faces backwards, apparently to prevent it filling up with dirt when they are burrowing.
The quenda (southern brown bandicoot – Isoodon obesulus) is omnivorous and leaves tell-tale conical pits in the surface of the soil as it digs for insects, spiders, tubers and fungi. They spend the day tucked up in small nests of vegetation under dense cover. Quenda are the most common of the mammal species at Barna Mia and are found across most of southern Australia. However, they are vulnerable to fox predation.
Woylies (brush-tailed bettong – Bettongia penicillata) were once found across 60% of Australia but are now confined to less than 1% of the mainland and a couple of offshore islands. They are currently listed as critically endangered by the IUCN and recent declines are thought to be a combination of fox predation, changing fire regimes, habitat destruction and a possible disease outbreak. Woylies are omnivorous but predominantly feed on fungi which they dig up from underground with their strong front claws. The fungi are digested by bacteria in a special part of their stomach. These bacteria release nutrients that can then be absorbed by the rest of the digestive system. It’s thought that they would have played an important role in dispersing fungi spores across the landscape. Woylies spend the day in dome-shaped nests, which they build from dried grasses and leaves that they carry in their prehensile tail.
Mala (rufous hare-wallaby – Lagorchestes hirsutus) are the smallest of the hare-wallabies, members of the macropod or kangaroo family. They are nocturnal and solitary herbivores, feeding on leaves, seeds and herbs. Extinct on the Australian mainland, mala are now confined to two island populations off the Western Australian coast and a handful of captive breeding facilities, including Barna Mia.
Boodies (burrowing bettong – Bettongia lesueur) are small nocturnal marsupial that lives in communal burrows, the only burrowing member of their suborder (Macropodiformes). Boodies are omnivorous, feeding on seeds, fruits, flowers, roots, fungi and termites. They were once widespread throughout semi-arid Australia but were extinct on the mainland by the 1960s. They are now confined to several offshore islands and captive facilities. Declines have been attributed to fox and cat predation, competition with rabbits, livestock grazing and changing fire regimes.
Not part of the official tour but we also came across this owl perched on a branch, watching as we pitched our tent. Scientific deduction (i.e. random flipping through the Field Guide to Australian Birds) suggests that it is a southern boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae) but I could have totally made this up. Please correct me if I’m wrong!
Well done to those of you who have made it all the way to the bottom of this post! In lieu of an prize, I’m going to treat you to a very brief explanation of my new photo watermark. As you should have noticed by now, my last name is Whitehead. Which is quite apt when you consider how early the males in my family go grey! But the whitehead (Mohoua albicilla) is also a New Zealand forest bird. So to celebrate my tendancy towards bird nerdness, I’ve designed a new logo. I’d love to blog about whiteheads (of the avian variety) on Wildlife Wednesday sometime but given I’ve only seen them twice, never managed an identifiable photo and currently live in Australia, you may have to wait a while!
* I was going to drag this out to five Wildlife Wednesdays but that seemed like cheating.