A pocket-size predator thought to be pushing up daisies in New South Wales has been rediscovered in the inland Australian region.
During recent monitoring, scientists from the Wild Deserts conservation group spotted the first crest-tailed mulgara in Tibooburra's Sturt National Park in more than a hundred years. The small, carnivorous marsupial is closely related to the Tasmanian devil. It weighs less than 150 grams and sports a coat of pale, blonde fur. It eats small mammals, reptiles, and insects. Its thick tail, measuring a little less than half its body length, is tipped with a distinctive black crest that gives the animal its name.
Invasive rabbits, cats, and foxes brought to the area by European settlers centuries ago were thought to have driven the mulgara to local extinction. For a time, the marsupial was only known from fossilised bone fragments found in deserts across the region. But recently, the mulgara has expanded its numbers across the border in South Australia's Strzelecki Desert, which lies about 280 kilometres north-west of Sturt National Park.
The fortuitous find comes at an exciting time for Wild Deserts. The project, which is a partnership between the University of New South Wales Sydney and the wildlife group Ecological Horizons with government organisations, was planning to contribute to federal conservation efforts shortly after the discovery.
"Next year we are due to begin introduced predator and rabbit eradication for a large area, which will no doubt help the mulgara," Reece Pedler, project coordinator of Wild Deserts, says in a UNSW press release.
The conservation project will set up Sturt National Park as a sanctuary with two fenced exoclosures to keep predators away. After those have been erected, locally extinct mammals like the greater bilby, burrowing bettong, Western quoll, and Western barred bandicoot, will be reintroduced. Similar critters, such as the lesser bilby, went extinct decades ago.
The crest-tailed mulgara weaselled its way back into the park before the start of this conservation project. This may be partially because of a decline in the local rabbit population due to rabbit calicivirus, a widespread leporine hemorrhagic disease.
Looks like the resilient marsupial is making a comeback.