Cattle producer's dying wish protects critically endangered wallaby in central Queensland

Cattle producer's dying wish protects critically endangered wallaby in central Queensland


ABC News
Harriet Tatham 1 hour ago



( Wild Mob via ABC News) A bridled nailtail wallaby from the Avocet Nature Reserve.


A central Queensland man's decision to honour the wishes of his late father is playing a vital role in the protection of a critically endangered species of wallaby.

In 1973, the bridled nailtail wallaby was thought to be extinct until a fencing contractor who had read an article on the species thought he spotted a population at Dingo, about 150 kilometres west of Rockhampton.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife confirmed the sighting and the property became what is now known as Taunton National Park.

Twenty years later and 150 kilometres further west, cattle producer Hugo Spooner's father died, leaving behind a final request for part of his land to be donated to conservation.

"It was his favourite part of the property, and so the only way I could uphold his wishes was to go ahead and have it declared a nature refuge," Mr Spooner said.

After an assessment by the Department of Environment and Resource Management to find out whether their land would be suitable to introduce a population of wallaby species, the donated land was renamed Avocet Nature Reserve.

Wild Mob, an Australian environmental non-government organisation, was then introduced to the partnership, to facilitate the construction of a nursery for the wallabies.

Wild Mob works on a number of research projects, including feral animal monitoring and control, while also running university and volunteer programs to help perform regular health assessments on the nursery wallabies.

Andrew Elphinstone, an environmental scientist and the project manager of Wild Mob, said the establishment of nurseries like Avocet make a real change to the preservation of Australia's native environment.

"With small populations of endangered species, you want to have multiple sites," he said.

"The advantage is a really bad bushfire couldn't make a whole population extinct, or destroy the entire habitat for one population."



( Wild Mob via ABC News) There was likely less than 500 bridled nailtail wallabies left in the wild, Wild Mob says.


Feral cats 'big threat' to wallabies

While it was difficult to confirm population numbers, Mr Elphinstone said there were likely fewer than 500 bridled nailtail wallabies left in the wild.

Mr Elphinstone said while the key to the survival of the wallabies was allowing them to exist at multiple sites, it was also vital that juvenile wallabies had the opportunity to thrive in a predator-free environment, such as Avocet Nature Reserve.

"We monitor and control predators like feral cats, foxes, and wild dogs, as they pose a really big threat to the nailtail wallabies, particularly the feral cats," Mr Elphinstone said.

"Feral cats have a prey preference for things of two kilograms and under, and juvenile wallabies are a really great meal size for them.

"So if we can get them through the first 12 to 18 months of their life and get them over that three kilos mark, their chances of surviving and breeding will greatly improve."

Mr Elphinstone said research out of the University of Queensland had shown about 50 per cent of juvenile wallabies were taken by feral cats - a statistic that had also impacted other small native species.

"When you look across Australia on a whole, and at all our endangered mammals or mammals that have gone extinct, about 90 per cent of them are below three kilos in body weight," he said.

"While it's not the sole driver, a big driver of that is predation by foxes and feral cats."


( Wild Mob via ABC News) Cattle producer Hugo Spooner and Wild Mob environmental scientist Andrew Elphinstone at the Avocet Nature Reserve.


More people needed to help conservation project

Mr Elphinstone said he was hopeful for the future of the bridled nailtail wallaby.

"By combining the government expertise with what we at Wild Mob can contribute - and some of Hugo's time and local knowledge and obviously his land - we've got a better, more holistic team to manage this population," he said.

While work at Avocet is going well, he said greater things could be accomplished if more people got involved with local conservation projects like theirs.

"If everyone contributes a little bit, particularly working together in partnerships, you can achieve quite a lot," he said.

Mr Spooner said while many of his neighbours had made similar donations for conservation, he also thought more could be done.

"If we'd heard that a country overseas was being developed to the extent that animal and plant life was disappearing, we'd think that needed attention I think it's out duty," he said.