Bringing Back Bettongs
The eastern bettong (Bettongia gaimardi) is a woodland-dwelling, rabbit-sized kangaroo. A unique characteristic of eastern bettongs is their ability to carry nesting material with their tail.
Bettongs build densely woven nests of dry grasses and bark under fallen timber or among small bushes and tussocks. By night, they roam widely in search of food – underground fungi (commonly referred to as truffles) and the tubers of lilies, orchids and other plants.
Bettongs were once a common sight throughout the woodlands of south-eastern Australia including the ACT. The impacts of foxes, land clearing, livestock grazing and the invasion of rabbits drove them to extinction on the mainland. Until recently, they were found only in Tasmania.
Why return bettongs to woodlands of eastern Australia?
Returning a local species that has been missing for such a long time is an important step in restoring the endangered grassy box-gum woodlands to a condition that more closely represents how they were prior to European settlement.
By recreating the full suite of woodland characters, we can present a vision to the Australian community of what our woodlands could and should be like.
Bettongs also play an important role in a healthy woodland ecosystem – they are ‘ecosystem engineers’. This means they have an important ecological role that benefits a range of other woodland species.
Their foraging activities create up to 3,000 diggings per hectare, which has positive effects on the soil, water and nutrients. The extensive diggings of bettongs contribute to ecosystem health by increasing the soil’s capacity to capture and absorb water. Bettongs also disperse the spores of the fungi on which they feed. These fungi enable plants, such as eucalyptus and acacia trees, to extract nutrients from the soil.
Nationally, it was also important to re-establish populations on the mainland as there is a consistent risk that foxes will become established in Tasmania and drive local populations to extinction.
How is the reintroduction going?
In 2011, 23 bettongs were brought to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve to establish a captive breeding or founder colony. Individuals from that colony have produced many pouch young and the population at Tidbinbilla has increased.
The first of the Tidbinbilla bettongs were released into Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary in autumn 2012, establishing a second ACT bettong colony. In late May 2012, another 24 bettongs were captured from different sites in Tasmania and brought to the ACT. They were divided between the Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary and the Tidbinbilla breeding colony.
Since then the population of bettongs in the Sanctuary has grown. Regular monitoring of the Sanctuary population has been undertaken by ANU with support of volunteers through the Friends Group.
Monitoring is undertaken quarterly to assess population and individual health. Animals are trapped, recorded and released over several nights, four times per year. Many animals enjoy the peanut butter and rolled oats offering [bait] and are repeatedly caught in the same trapping season.
Bettongs are now commonly encountered in the sanctuary, if you know how and where to look. The successful reintroduction program has lead to the development of other reintroduction programs, including the New Holland Mouse, the Eastern Chestnut Mouse, the Bush Stone-curlew, the Yellow-footed Antechinus and the Eastern Quoll.
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