Aboriginal ‘Welcome’ for return of native mammal

The return of the red-tailed phascogale to northern South Australia has provided healing and lifted spirits. Photo Michael J Barritt

There was great satisfaction among the wildlife fraternity in the wake of the reintroduction of a previously wiped-out species to northern South Australia.

The red-tailed phascogale, also known as a kenngoor, is a tree-dwelling carnivorous marsupial whose absence from the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park has been a sorry episode for more than a century.

However, a joint venture between the Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered Species Ltd (FAME) and the SA Department for Environment and Water (DEW) has paved the way for a gradual return.

The release of the red-tailed phascogales has been made possible in the wake of the ‘Bounceback’ program, which has been operating for about 30 years and involves despatching introduced predators such as feral cats and foxes plus goats and rabbits throughout South Australia’s national parks with the help of volunteers from the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA). A full run-down is featured in Issue 1 of Great Australian Outdoors magazine

The latest enterprise follows the fruitful programs that opened the door to the reappearance of western quolls and brush-tailed possums to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park – an assignment that has been running for seven years and which continues to deliver encouraging results.

In a touching, traditional Aboriginal ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremony led by two Adnyamathanha elders, 20 of the phascogales were released as part of their reintroduction. Now they are free to flourish and scamper around in search of keeping up their diet in the wild consisting of insects, spiders, birds and occasionally small mammals.

The initiative took much preparation, but the delight was apparent as Adnyamathanha leaders, Terence Coulthard and Roger Johnson, performed the honours before a small but expectant band of observers.

The members of the rapt audience were left in no doubt that such a ‘Welcome’ ritual to hail a returning species is always of vast significance in the annals of Aboriginal culture.

The new animals were provided by the Alice Springs Desert Park and flown from the Northern Territory to Arkaroola in the northern Flinders by National Parks and Wildlife Service staff, who are also keeping an eye on the progress of these initial ‘pioneers’ with back-up from volunteer students and University of Adelaide academics.

FAME CEO, Tracy McNamara, has high hopes about how the new arrivals might fare. She feels the decision about the site for release seems to have been a good one as primary observations suggest the animals are becoming attuned and enjoying the numerous tree hollows in the vicinity.

“The excellent rains this season has ensured plenty of grasshoppers, crickets and spiders – the natural fare for the phascogales – and this augurs well for the breeding season in the coming winter,” said Tracy.

“It is occasions like this for which FAME exists – reintroducing species in areas where they have been extinct for decades lifts everybody’s spirits. Another small slice of Australia is being healed and, by so doing, we heal ourselves.”

To further bolster the phascogales breaking new ground, backing is also on hand from various landholders in conjunction with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the South Australian Arid Lands Landscape Board and the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

There are three species of phascogales – brush-tailed, red-tailed and northern brush-tailed. And despite the South Australian relocation, the red-tailed phascogale remains listed as a vulnerable species on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Let’s hope they are on the right path to strongly boost their numbers.

Western quolls, big cousin to the red-tailed phascogale, have been successfully reintroduced to North East South Australia – next step, the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges along with their cousins. Photo Michael J Barritt

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