Iconic endangered brush-tailed wallaby survives Black Summer bushfires

Miracle: The New England's endangered brush-tailed wallabies have survived last year's deadly bushfire, according to a recent NPWS survey. Photo: NPWS
Miracle: The New England's endangered brush-tailed wallabies have survived last year's deadly bushfire, according to a recent NPWS survey. Photo: NPWS

The NSW New England colony of endangered brush-tailed rock wallabies has survived last year's deadly bushfires, according to a National Parks and Wildlife Survey (NPWS) of one of their last colonies.

Every one of the 48 known wallaby colonies in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park were burned out last year.

But a recent survey by the NPWS has quashed concern that many of the New England's iconic population of wallabies were among the billion native animals killed in last year's unprecedented Black Summer bushfires.

David McKinnon, chairman of the Central Northern WIRES branch said it was "extraordinary" that one of the last contiguous colonies of the iconic endangered animal had survived what he called a "holocaust of heat".

He said ecologists around the country will be cheering at the news.

"Those brush-tailed rock wallabies are extraordinary animals and they're extraordinary to watch. To lose them would have been shocking," he said.

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In a recent aerial survey of the Oxley Wild Rivers and Guy Fawkes River National Parks NPWS officers spotted over 90 of the iconic little wallabies.

Piers Thomas, Senior Conservation Planning Officer said the count is consistent with estimates taken in previous years, suggesting the colony has survived the inferno intact.

Endangered New England brush-tailed wallabies have survived last year's deadly bushfires

"It's great to see that these endangered animals have not only survived the fires but are adapting to the changed landscape," he said.

"Most of the colonies with surviving wallabies received emergency supplementary feeding of lucerne, sweet potato and carrots and they are most definitely bouncing back."

Ground-based surveys conducted in June 2020 spotted some juvenile wallabies who would have been in the pouch when the fire hit, and some baby wallabies that may have been born since the event.

NPWS staff also identified individual wallabies that were known to researchers from before the fire, including one that has been spotted over the last 11 years.

For the first time the NPWS aerial survey extended into nearby Guy Fawkes River National Park, another bushfire-affected region.

"In more good news for the species we discovered an additional 25 brush-tailed rock-wallaby colonies in this park and saw surviving individuals in 12 of the previously-known sites," Mr Thomas said.

The wallabies that survived the bushfires found themselves short of food.

Post-fire assessments carried out by NPWS and the NSW Government's Saving our Species program showed that local wallabies had been left stranded with limited food and water and the supplementary feeding was vital to help maintain these colonies and allow them to recover.

NPWS, Saving our Species and others delivered more than 3 tonnes of supplementary feeding to reserves in the northern tablelands.

In total, close to 12 tonnes of supplementary food has been delivered to brush-tailed rock-wallabies across NSW.

Mr McKinnon said it was good news for the rock wallaby, but other species were suffering.

"It's symbolically wonderful that the rock wallaby has survived but generally speaking there's been a devastating loss of wildlife that will be a permanent part of what has happened with drought and fire.

"Any loss of a species is a canary in the coal mine for a lot of other things. That in itself is incredibly pessimistic."

Across NSW over 80 per cent of known wallaby habitat burned in last year's unprecedented, deadly Black Summer bushfires.

This story "Extraordinary": Iconic endangered brush-tailed wallaby survives Black Summer bushfires first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.