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Brush-tailed rock wallaby on the brink of extinction

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The brush-tailed rock wallaby needs saving (image via Twitter).

The brush-tailed rock wallaby is critically endangered in Victoria but only listed as vulnerable in Queensland.

The Victorian Government published a national recovery plan for the brush-tailed rock wallaby (BTRW) in 2011. The recovery plan expressed the need for a captive population in Queensland as insurance against a continuing decline in the wild.

There are at least ten facilities breeding the brush-tailed rock wallaby in captivity across Australia. BTRW captivity map.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is the only place in Queensland breeding BTRWs but they are not breeding the Queensland species. The population estimates suggest there are around 10,000 to 20,000 alive throughout Australia.

Less than 100 of these are the southern species in Victoria, where they are aiming to increase the population to 200. The endangered central species lives south of Port Macquarie in New South Wales. Its estimated population is about 500 and it is being bred in captivity.

The remaining 9,400-19,400 are the northern species which live in the south of Queensland and northern New South Wales.

It is believed around 17% of the species is in Queensland, meaning there are an estimated 1,700-3,400 brush-tailed rock wallabies in the state.

Since the 1990s the northern species has been listed as vulnerable and on the decline. In Queensland, there has not been a total population survey since 2005. Brush-tailed rock wallabies have a vulnerable status in Queensland but meet the criteria to be endangered.

According to the Queensland Government, if 'the population size of the wildlife has declined, or is likely to decline, to an extent that the wildlife may be in danger of extinction,' it will be declared endangered.

There are an estimated 800-1100 bridled nail-tail wallabies in Australia. The species is listed as endangered and there are breeding programs in Queensland to ensure its survival.

The population of the bridled nail-tail wallaby has been surveyed in Queensland and New South Wales as part of its recovery plan. The brush-tailed rock wallaby was supposed to be surveyed in Queensland as part of its recovery plan.

The Queensland Government has said, further:

'If there have not been thorough searches conducted for the wildlife and the wildlife has not been seen in the wild over a period that is appropriate for the life cycle or form of the wildlife'[then it will be declared endangered].'

The brush-tailed rock wallaby is the faunal emblem of the City of Ipswich and the largest threatened species within the city. Ipswich City Council planner Tim Shields said there could be 100-200 brush-tailed rock wallabies remaining in the Flinders-Goolman area.

“The southern and the central ones are in a bit more trouble and they have established captive breeding programs for both of them. Which doesn’t exist for the northern one,” Mr Shields said.

One of Shields' jobs is to create conservation plans to protect the brush-tailed rock wallabies from foxes, bushfires and wild pigs.

There are at least 28 listed brush-tailed rock wallaby conservation sites in Australia and six of those are in Queensland: Flinders Peak Conservation Park, Main Range National Park, Mount Barney National Park, Perseverance Dam, Queen Mary Falls, and Sundown National Park. 

An area near Perseverance Dam has the most reported recent sightings of brush-tailed rock wallabies and could be an ideal place to start a breeding program.

According to the Atlas of Living Australia, there have been 2,878 total BTRW sightings throughout Australia since 2010. Only 127 of those sightings occurred in Queensland.

Senior ecologist Shawn Capararo said little is known about the extent of the decline in Queensland. A survey in the late 1990s found evidence of brush-tailed rock wallabies at 131 sites across the state.

It is very possible there are fewer than 1000 brush-tailed rock wallabies left in Queensland.

Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland member Matt Cecil said “it's a nationally threatened species and it's on our doorstep, and no one’s really spending much effort on their conservation.”

The Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland is a not-for-profit organisation based in Brisbane. They have been around for more than 50 years helping where they can. They raised nearly $10,000 for a project with the Ipswich City Council last year.

Mr Cecil said:

“We’ve raised a little bit of money, and we’re going to put that towards weed control in one particular brush-tailed rock wallaby den sight in Flinders-Goolman [conservation estate].” 

Threats to the brush-tailed rock wallaby are habitat degradation, small population size, low migration, climate change, drought, fire, hunting, disease, cats, eagles, foxes, wild dogs, lace monitors, goats, rabbits and pigs.

Not-for-profit organisation Aussie Ark has built a 60-hectare area for endangered animals near Barrington Tops National Park, New South Wales.

Aussie Ark President Tim Faulkner said fences are of the utmost importance to keep feral animals out of conservation areas.

“Essentially Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate on earth,” Mr Faulkner said.

Aussie Ark received their first two brush-tailed rock wallabies in January this year and received another in April. They were able to do this with the help of the NSW Government.

The Mount Rothwell Research and Conservation Reserve started with 20 southern brush-tailed rock wallabies in 2016. They have 55-75 living in the fenced habitat now and aim to increase the numbers enough to release some back into the wild.

Mt Rothwell land care facilitator Cassie Price said there is no way BTRWs will ever evolve to outsmart foxes and cats so we must build predator-proof fences.

She told IA

You don’t want to get to the point where we are, where we’ve got nothing left. We’re forced now to essentially change our gene pool and the ratio of genetics to save them so that they can still exist in Victoria.

The NSW Government has invested $100 million over five years into the Saving Our Species program.

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage has said 'almost 1,000 animal and plant species are at risk of extinction in NSW.' 

Queensland has almost 1,000 animal and plant species at risk as well. 33 are extinct, 301 endangered and 621 are vulnerable. 

The Queensland Government’s Everyone’s Environment grant allocated $12 million to eligible local groups. The four streams of funding were: conservation, urban wild spaces pilot projects, heritage and research.

Three grants were approved for wallabies in Queensland, awarding $3,264 and $39,400 to the conservation of the bridled nail-tail wallaby. A further $91,304 was also assigned for the conservation of the Sharman’s [Mt Claro] rock wallaby.

No grants were approved for the brush-tailed rock wallaby.

Ted Roker is a freelance journalist and journalism student.

You can donate to the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland if you would like to support the survival of this species.

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