Small Carnivorous Marsupial Back From Extinction

Reduced rabbit populations over the past 20 years are thought to have benefited the species. (Image:  Katherine Moseby   )
Reduced rabbit populations over the past 20 years are thought to have benefited the species. (Image: Katherine Moseby )

The small carnivorous marsupial, known only from fossilized bone fragments called a crest-tailed mulgara, (Dasycercus cristicauda) has been extinct in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, for more than a century. Well, that’s before discovering it in the Sturt National Park, northwest of Tibooburra.

The unexpected discovery was made by a team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney’s Wild Deserts Project during recent scientific monitoring. The Wild Deserts Project is an initiative that was started at the beginning of this year, and aims to bring back seven locally extinct mammals.

Dr. Rebecca West, a UNSW scientist and Wild Deserts ecologist, recalls that it was particularly exciting to find a crest-tailed mulgara alive for the first time in NSW, explaining that:

Wild Deserts project co-ordinator Reece Pedler said that the discovery couldn’t have come at a better time, as the team are due to begin introduced predator and rabbit eradication programs, saying:

The Crest-tailed Mulgara was once widely distributed across sandy deserts in inland Australia. (Photo: Reece Pedler)

The crest-tailed mulgara was once widely distributed across sandy deserts in inland Australia. (Image: Reece Pedler)

National Parks and Wildlife Service area manager Jaymie Norris says the Wild Deserts project is contributing to the NSW Government’s Saving our Species conservation program (SOS):

Previous work by Wild Deserts team members indicates that the crest-tailed mulgara has been recovering in numbers and has also been expanding its range. The increase in ground cover due to the reduction in rabbit populations over the last 20 years by the release of rabbit calicivirus is also thought to have benefited the species.

Reducing the populations of introduced predators, such as cats and foxes, has also helped to increase the numbers of small rodents for mulgara to prey on.

There are two species of mulgara in Australia — the crest-tailed and the brush-tailed mulgara. The crest-tailed can be distinguished by the arrangement of black hairs along the back half of the tail, which form more of a dorsal crest along its tail.

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