The marsupial returns from extinction

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A tiny victim of Australia’s exotic predator problem is making a tentative comeback thanks to a captive breeding program and a fenced-in refuge.

The tree-dwelling red-tailed phascogale was common in New South Wales, before wild cats and foxes hunted the marsupial to the point of statewide extinction.

The species is also listed as vulnerable nationally, with only 9,000 remaining.

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Federal authorities have acknowledged that the phascogale needs a recovery plan, but so far there is none.

Determined wildlife managers are working to restore a population inside a protected refuge in Mallee Cliffs National Park in western New South Wales, with 14 babies being raised at the zoo Adelaide released this week.

They joined 60 others who were delivered last year – products of a captive breeding program involving the zoo and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Jo Gorman, of NSW National Parks and Wildlife, says red-tailed phascogales were once abundant across much of arid and semi-arid Australia.

But a catastrophic decline after the arrival of cats and foxes means they are now only found in one percent of their original range.

It is hoped that the recovery program centered on the Mallee Cliffs Refuge may eventually increase the national population by about 20%.

Mallee Cliffs National Park contains one of the largest wildlife-proof fences in the Southern Hemisphere and is at the heart of a groundbreaking mammal reintroduction program.

“The project … is unique, seeing 10 regionally extinct mammal species restored in New South Wales to recreate an assemblage and its associated ecosystem processes that have not been functional for over a century,” said the report. park wildlife ecologist, Laurence Berry.

A recent CSIRO report blamed alien pests for the loss of 79 native plants and animals since European settlement and warned Australia was at risk of another brutal wave of extinctions.

Feral cats alone kill more than 456 million native mammals, 272 million birds, 92 million frogs and 446 million reptiles each year and have so far contributed to the extinction of 27 native species.

CSIRO called for a truly national plan that combines world-class biosecurity controls to keep new pests out with the latest technology to find and remove those that are already there.

Last month, a damning new audit revealed that most of Australia’s endangered species go unchecked.

The Australian National Audit Office also found that no effort was made to determine whether species-specific bailouts were working.

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