By MIE SORENSEN
Conservationists working to save a bandicoot species from extinction have suffered a setback, as population numbers declined during a local recovery program.
Woodlands Historic Park in Greenvale is home to a small population of Eastern Barred Bandicoots kept in a 250-hectare paddock, which is fenced to keep predators at bay.
However, project officer for Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA), Travis Scicchitano, said the latest trapping count suggested the population has reduced.
“In our last trapping event, known individuals, which means the ones that we physically caught and counted, were sitting at between 30 to 40 animals,” Mr Scicchitano said.
“When the habitat was in good condition about three years ago, the population was estimated at around 500 (bandicoots), based on trapping numbers of around 120,” he said.
Scientific formulas are usually combined with trapping figures to approximate the population, but Mr Scicchitano said the latest count was too low to accurately gauge the number of bandicoots at the park.
The Eastern Barred Bandicoot species is considered extinct on mainland Australia and now survives only in recovery programs and zoos around the country.
A major threat to the survival of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot is the loss of Victoria’s native grassland habitats.
According to the Victorian National Parks Association, less than 1 per cent of Victoria’s native grassland ecosystems remain.
Mr Scicchitano, who manages the Bandicoot recovery program at Woodlands, said a lack of rain in Melbourne has affected the amount of vegetation in the park’s grassland habitat.
“The grass out here should be knee high and over the last couple of years we've had a reduction because we’ve had limited rain and rain at the wrong time of the year,” he said.
“Our bandicoot numbers have hugely declined as they adjust to our current vegetation community."
The Eastern Barred Bandicoot Recovery Team partnered with CVA to maintain the grassland sanctuary at Woodlands Historic Park with the help of volunteers.
After hearing about the Bandicoot numbers, volunteer Marine Murua who studies conservation land management said she wanted to do her part to protect the environment and the animals.
“To hear that the grasslands are affected because of the weather makes me think that this is another effect of climate change, which is just terrible,” Ms Murua said.
“We only just saved this species so I think we need to do everything we can to protect them now.”
However, Mr Scicchitano said recent rainfall in Melbourne means the grass has started growing and the bandicoots are expected to recover.
“They are certainly bouncing back now,” he said.
“About a month ago during a spotlighting survey one of the parks Victoria staff saw a mum with three little babies running around and that’s the first evidence we’ve seen."
The species numbers are also expected to grow in other recovery sites and a new release program was just launched on the fox-free French Island in Western Port Bay.
“At the end of the day, even though this site is going through struggle at the moment we have several sites to compensate that, to safeguard the species,” Mr Scicchitano said.