For a week in September 2017, Frances Hulst and myself, Debbie Pritchard – both veterinary staff at Taronga Wildlife Hospital – embarked on a journey to remote western New South Wales. Here, near the South Australian border and in the Murray-Darling Basin, lies Scotia Sanctuary, a 65,000-hectare property that is just one of 26 managed by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
Frances was selected to undertake a Zoo Friends Fellowship to Scotia with the purpose of conducting health assessments on Brush-tailed Bettong or Woylie, and, with the support of the Taronga Wildlife Hospital, I joined her to assist.
Scotia is an incredible property that provides habitat for some of the largest remaining populations of threatened species, such as the Greater Bilby, Numbat, Bridled Nailtail Wallaby, Burrowing Bettong, Rufous Hare-wallaby and of course, Woylie. A feature of AWC’s land management at Scotia has been the establishment of the largest fox and cat-free area on mainland Australia, with three large areas of land protected by exclusion fences.
The Brush-tailed Bettong or Woylie is a critically endangered marsupial that is distantly related to kangaroos and wallabies. In 2008, 57 Woylie sourced from Karakamia (another sanctuary under the AWC umbrella) were released into Scotia’s 4000-hectare feral free area known as “Stage 2”. Since then, the population has increased to 400 individuals.
The Brush-tailed Bettong or Woylie is a critically endangered marsupial that is distantly related to kangaroos and wallabies. In 2008, 57 Woylie sourced from Karakamia (another sanctuary under the AWC umbrella) were released into Scotia’s 4,000 hectare feral free area known as Stage 2. Since then, the population has increased to 400 individuals.
Our work was part of a greater team effort to gain a snap health assessment and population monitoring of this species within the sanctuary. Over four days, 110 traps were set each evening between 4.30 and 6.30pm in specifically marked out locations within the Stage 2 area.
Then each evening at 11.00pm, three teams set off to start checking the traps and the real work began. Once located in the traps, animals were ferried to the veterinary clinic at the Scotia laboratory for health checks. Each animal was anaesthetised using a gas inhalation mask, and Frances performed a full health assessment, checking sex, weight, pouches, dental health, microchip identification, and completed body score assessments and clinical observations
A number of other samples including bloods, faeces and fur combings were taken. Given this rigorous schedule, there was not a lot of sleep or downtime!
In total, the teams caught, processed and released around 75 animals per night with 39 individuals coming to us for full medical work ups. Each night was long, with the race to have all traps checked and processed, and the last animals released before sunrise, so that these nocturnal animals could make it back to cover for the daylight hours.
In the following weeks, Frances will be collating all the data from the blood testing and other samples for analysis.
On a personal note, I considered myself privileged for the experience to work with these remarkable animals that were on the brink of extinction, supporting in a small way the amazing team of people at Scotia and their efforts to secure the comeback of this and other threatened species within the exclusion fence.
On behalf of Frances and myself I would like to thank the Zoo Friends Fellowship program and the ongoing support from Taronga in assisting native species and this incredible conservation work.
Debbie Pritchard is a senior Taronga Zoo Veterinary Nurse and Keeper at Taronga Wildlife Hospital.