After the discovery of a female Kangaroo Island dunnart and her pouch full of babies, Zoos SA is excited to announce that two years on from the bushfires, there’s more exciting news for the endangered species.
A further six healthy KI dunnarts have been found by a collaboration of conservation teams during the South Australian Department of Environment and Water’s (DEW) annual Spring fauna surveys with DEW, Kangaroo Island Landscape Board and Zoos SA capturing exciting rare vision of one particular dunnart ‘Claude’ as he went about his ‘business’.
Supported by funding from the Australian Government’s Bushfire Wildlife and Habitat Recovery Investment conservationists from partner organisations and Zoos SA surveyed 18 sites across Flinders Chase National Park and Ravine de Casoars Wilderness Protected Area.
Four males and two female dunnarts, all adults in upper healthy weight ranges, and with some showing signs of recent breeding activity, were discovered during the surveys.
This takes the number of dunnarts caught since the 2019-2020 bushfires from three to nine.
Zoos SA Conservation Field Officer Claire Hartvigsen-Power said this is fantastic news for a species that had over 96 per cent of its habitat burnt just over two years ago.
“It’s too early to say much with any certainty, but actually getting our hands on these healthy individuals is an encouraging sign that the species is persisting well post-fire,” she said.
“All but one of the dunnarts were captured in burnt habitat, which was really interesting to see, and a good indicator that they are managing to live in a really different environment than two years ago.
“Further research and monitoring is going to be crucial in providing us with answers on how dunnarts continue to adapt and survive in a recovering landscape.”
Matt Heard, DEW Bushfire Recovery Project Manager, said that capturing six individuals, including catching three in one night, was a great result considering that trapping this species is particularly challenging.
“A huge amount of effort has gone into monitoring this species using remote cameras but there is still a lot we don’t know about their movements and behaviours,” he said.
“The radio tracking project, being led by Zoos SA will collect some of that crucial information which will help to assess the health of the population following the bushfires.”
One of the males discovered was fitted with a tiny radio-transmitting collar weighing less than 1 gram. He was affectionately named ‘Claude’ after the famous Impressionist artist, Claude Monet, (see if you can get the pun!).
Claude weighed 22 grams and was observed for an hour post-collaring to ensure that he was comfortable and that the collar fitted him well.
Claire said the collar allows researchers to use a specialised locator and antenna to track Claude’s movements, gaining valuable insight into dunnart habits, home range size, and foraging and nesting behaviour.
“Over the following weeks we braved the cold overnight temperatures and sometimes wild weather to track Claude’s nightly movements, from leaving his nest hole at sunset, to returning home at first light,” she said.
“Video footage showed Claude adapting well to the collar, as each evening he would meticulously groom himself before leaving to forage, and then each morning hesitantly check his nest-hole before entering to sleep for the day. We have all become very fond of him after monitoring him for so long!
“One interesting moment we caught on remote camera footage was a heath goanna, one of the KI dunnart’s natural predators, attack Claude’s nest hole.
“The goanna sniffed around the entrance of the hole, and then proceeded to dig at the hole with its claws before sticking its head and neck down the hole.
“Luckily Claude escaped unscathed and that night he left that nest hole and didn’t return, settling in a new nest hole.”
After a month and a half Claude was recaptured, his collar was removed and a health check was performed. There were no abrasions or irritation from the collar and Claude was in great condition.
Paul Jennings, KI Landscape Board KI Dunnart Recovery Manager, said his team continued to monitor Claude after he was returned to his nest hole, where video footage showed him leaving that evening after performing his usual grooming routine.
“Following the removal of the collar the team have continued to collect vision of Claude using his various nest holes which is confirmation that he is healthy and doing well,” Paul said.
“This is great news ahead of more trapping planned for late February and March that will provide more valuable insights into this species’ very private lives.”
Over the next year, the team from Zoos SA and KI Landscape Board plan on radio-tracking more dunnarts across the western area of the island, with DEW and KI Landscape continuing their monitoring and surveying work.
This research will help inform conservation planning for the future of the species and can be used for research and conservation efforts by other organisations, including the KI Dunnart Recovery Team.
Zoos SA work with KI dunnarts is supported by the Zoo and Aquarium Association.
Zoos SA received funding through the Australian Government’s Environment Restoration Fund to research the Kangaroo Island dunnart. The Kangaroo Island Landscape Board received funding through the Australian Government’s Environment Restoration Fund and Bushfire recovery package for wildlife and their habitat.
What is a Kangaroo Island dunnart?
- A carnivorous marsupial only found on Kangaroo Island in South Australia.
- The Kangaroo Island dunnart is listed as Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act.
- Scientists believe that Kangaroo Island dunnarts feed on spiders, ants, beetles, scorpions, centipedes and grasshoppers.
- Male Kangaroo Island dunnarts probably live for one to two years, while females can live for between three and five years.