The deserts of New South Wales (NSW), Australia, have been hiding a secret for more than 100 years.
That secret is the crest-tailed mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda), a tiny rat-like marsupial that was believed to have gone extinct in the region more than a century ago, and whose existence in NSW in southern Australia was only confirmed by fossilized bone fragments...until recently.
A team of scientists on a monitoring expedition in Sturt National Park north west of Tibooburra found that the elusive little carnivorous marsupial is still, in fact, very much alive in NSW. News of the discovery was released in a December 15, 2017 announcement from UNSW Sydney's Wild Deserts Project.
Dr. Rebecca West, a University of New South Wales scientist and ecologist for the Wild Deserts Project, said:
"The crest-tailed mulgara was once widely distributed across sandy desert environments in inland Australia, but declined due to the effects of rabbits, cats and foxes."
Fellow scientist and Wild Deserts Project coordinator, Reece Pedler, said this find is not only exciting in and of itself but also comes at a particularly opportune time.
"Next year we are due to begin introduced predator and rabbit eradication from a large area, which will no doubt help the mulgara."
As part of the predator eradication program, rabbits, cats, and foxes will be removed from two separate fenced enclosures in Sturt National Park. At that point, locally extinct native mammals will be reintroduced into those areas. Those species will include the greater bilby, the burrowing bettong (or boodie), Western quoll, and Western barred bandicoot, according to National Parks and Wildlife Service area manager Jaymie Norris.
As far as the mulgara is concerned, Wild Deserts scientists believe that the rediscovery of the small mammal species in NSW is likely due to a decline in rabbit and invasive predator populations over the past 20 years. This has allowed the mulgara to rebound in numbers and expand its territorial range.
The Wild Deserts Project is being sponsored by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. Its aim is to restore the health of desert ecosystems in Sturt National Park.
You can learn more about the mulgara and the Wild Deserts Project here.
What do you think of this encouraging discovery? Let us know in the comments section!
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