How a First Nations-run WA Wildlife Sanctuary is helping bring endangered bandicoots back to NSW

A century after their local extinction, a group of golden bandicoots made a 2000km charter flight from the WA outback to the Strzelecki Wilderness in far western New South Wales.

The Wild Deserts Project, a collaboration between scientists from the University of New South Wales and the state’s National Parks and Wildlife Service, consulted with Matuwa traditional owners represented by the Tarlka Matuwa Piarku Aboriginal Corporation to transfer the bandicoots.

Around 40 bandicoots were released in late May into a 2,000 hectare fenced wildlife-proof “exclosure”, from which feral cats, foxes and rabbits were eradicated.

They joined a population of large bilbies established in the area last year.

Wild Deserts lead ecologist Rebecca West said the bandicoot’s role as an “ecosystem engineer” would help restore the health of the Desert Range.

“Their absence from the desert ecosystem was definitely missed,” she said.

“They also take advantage of good conditions and are able to reproduce throughout the year.”

Bandicoots shelter in thick shrubbery and spinifex, and as they dig for their food, they turn over the soil, aiding in nutrient cycling and plant growth.

The marsupials were transferred from the Matuwa Kurrara Kurrara Indigenous Protected Area, a reserve in Western Australia’s central desert on Martu Country.

Wiluna Rangers director of environment and operations Dorian Moro said it was one of two recent translocation projects involving important native species.

“Wild Deserts approached TMPAC and the IPA (Matuwa Kurrara Kurrara Indigenous Protected Area) team and requested permission to remove the golden bandicoots from their country and reintroduce them to the traditional owners in the east,” said he declared.

“The IPA team argued that as long as our traditional owners are involved in a partnership (and) as long as custodians are involved in transporting animals from their country to the other country.”

The other relocation involved burrowing bettongs, known in Western Australia as boodies to Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northern Territory.

“As long as there are enough animals in Matuwa for the transfer, it is possible to take a significant number of animals,” Moro said.

“20-25 Boodies went to Newhaven, a good number to start a population elsewhere where they were previously extinct.

“It’s a good opportunity for rangers to participate and connect with other traditional owners and be part of the process.”

Representatives from Wongkumara and Maljangapa, the traditional owners of Sturt National Park, welcomed the Wiluna Martu Rangers and golden bandicoots to their country.

The translocation was an important opportunity for cultural connection and exchange between these groups of traditional owners.

The arrival of the fourth locally extinct species in wild deserts is another milestone in desert restoration.

Ms West said the bandicoots are doing well in their new home.

“We engaged early on with the traditional owners of Matuwa when planning this translocation, gaining their support,” she said.

“We also worked closely with our colleagues from the WA Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions to organize the logistics around this translocation.”

The golden bandicoot is an important species for the Wangkumara and Maljangapa peoples.

The Sturt National Park project is part of the NSW Government’s $40 million Wild Predator-Free Areas Partnerships Project, which is bringing back at least 13 currently extinct mammal species to NSW in nature.

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