News from the Field, Press Release

Australian rewilding program lauded on the world stage at conference in Spain

25 May. 2022
Wayne Lawler/AWC

Some of the world’s most experienced rewilding experts gathered in Valencia, Spain this week for the First Global Meeting of Conservation Translocation Practitioners. As an international leader in wildlife reintroductions, Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) was invited to speak about the organisation’s rewilding program, which spans the continent and to date involves rebuilding populations of twenty threatened or declining mammal species. At a time when the global ambition to restore nature is gathering momentum, the conference offers a new forum to share insights on wildlife reintroductions from around the world.

The meeting – which took place at Oceanogràfic València, Europe’s largest aquarium – heard from some of the world’s leading reintroduction experts, presenting their work from across seven different continents. They included Ignacio Jimenez (the meeting coordinator) who has worked throughout Central and South America with species as diverse as manatees, macaws, anteaters, and jaguars; Sofía Heinonen, the CEO of Rewilding Argentina who is implementing the largest reintroduction program for a single landscape in the Americas; and Carl Jones who is credited with saving the birdlife of the Mascarene Islands through strategic interventions, captive breeding and reintroductions.

 

Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) was invited to speak about the organisation’s rewilding program, which spans the continent and to date involves rebuilding populations of twenty threatened or declining mammal species. AWC
Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) was invited to speak about the organisation’s rewilding program, which spans the continent and to date involves rebuilding populations of twenty threatened or declining mammal species.

 

On Monday, AWC’s Chief Science Officer Dr John Kanowski spoke at length about Australian rewilding efforts, singling out the prevalence of feral predators (foxes and cats) as a major challenge. AWC has made an unparalleled investment in feral predator-free, fenced safe havens to support native mammal reintroductions. Even on such a prestigious international stage, AWC’s reintroduction program stands out – no other organisation has conducted translocations of so many small mammal species to multiple sites.

Dr Kanowski cited AWC’s Mt Gibson Wildlife Restoration Project as a shining example. This property in the mid-west of Western Australia is now hopping with rare wildlife. Eight species of mammals which were regionally extinct have been re-established within a large fenced safe haven, including the iconic termite-eating Numbat, important ecosystem engineers like the Bilby, and highly threatened mammals like the Banded Hare-wallaby, which had been entirely wiped out from the mainland. In 2021, this site also saw translocations of the Brushtail Possum into unfenced areas, in what Dr Kanowski described as a ‘hybrid’ approach, combining translocations into critical safe havens with broader landscape reintroductions.

Dr Kanowski said that “Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s mammal reintroduction program is making a major contribution – both by preventing the extinction of species on the brink, and by restoring ecological processes; rebuilding populations of animals across large landscapes. For a host of Australian mammal species, translocations now offer the only reliable prospect of staving off extinction.”

As an example, the Northern Bettong (a small kangaroo-relative) occurs in just two wild populations and numbers fewer than 1,000 individuals. Under threat from habitat loss and feral predators, this species will be the beneficiary of a safe haven currently under construction at AWC’s Mount Zero–Taravale Wildlife Sanctuary in North Queensland – the first project of this kind in the tropics of northern Australia.

 

Believe it or not, the Brushtail Possum is a rare species in arid inland Australia. It is the first species which has been translocated into the unfenced landscape at Mt Gibson.  Wayne Lawler/AWC
Believe it or not, the Brushtail Possum is a rare species in arid inland Australia. It is the first species which has been translocated into the unfenced landscape at Mt Gibson.

 

Similarly, the Central Rock-rat has almost disappeared from the ranges around Alice Springs in Central Australia and is now confined to small relic populations threatened by cats, foxes, and wildfires. Working with the Northern Territory Government, in July and August this year Australian Wildlife Conservancy plans to conduct the first ever translocation to the wild for this species, with the goal of establishing a secure population within the 9,450-hectare fenced area at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary. In time, it’s estimated Newhaven could support a significant population of up to 1,250 Central Rock-rats. These translocations are preventing further extinctions of Australian mammals.

Many of the mammals which have disappeared from Australian landscapes play important roles in their ecosystems. At North Head in Sydney, AWC has restored three species of small mammals which act as pollinators for the endangered banksia scrub community and is conducting research to investigate their effect on the vegetation. At other sites, reintroduced populations of digging animals like the Bilby and Burrowing Bettong, which can turn over up to twenty tonnes of soil in a year, are reinvigorating soil processes, improving water infiltration and turning over leaf litter to make nutrients available for plants.

AWC was touted as a global leader in a recent review of effective conservation organisations authored by Jimenez, who coordinated the rewilding conference.

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