15 March 2023

Sydney to base vast new sanctuary on Mulligans Flat model - including bettongs

| Sally Hopman
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Woman with bettong

Mulligans Flat ecologist Millie Sutherland Saines with a young bettong at the Canberra sanctuary. Photo: Supplied.

For the first time in more than 100 years, eastern bettongs will be reintroduced to Sydney, at its first 555-hectare feral-free national park – all thanks to Canberra’s own Mulligans Flat.

Six eastern bettongs from Mulligans Flat will be released in coming weeks to the Yiraaldiya National Park in western Sydney, which has been modelled on the Mulligans sanctuary site, the nation’s largest single box gum grassy woodland managed for conservation. The unique Canberra sanctuary covers more than 485 hectares with the reserve site about 800 hectares.

Ecologist at Mulligans Flat, Millie Sutherland Saines, said it was very exciting for the Gungahlin sanctuary to play such a crucial part in the NSW project.

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“The thing about this sanctuary model is that we know it works,” she said.

“It follows our protective fence model to protect the woodland and our wildlife from predators.”

NSW Minister for the Environment James Griffin said the eastern bettongs from Mulligans Flat would be released soon as part of the world-leading rewilding program.

“The last eastern bettong disappeared from mainland Australia in the 1920s, surviving only in Tasmania, and this upcoming release will mean we’ve returned 11 species that were once extinct in NSW back into our national parks – a globally significant outcome,” he said.

Man chasing bettong

At Mulligans Flat, everyone gets out into the field when it comes to caring for the locals – including CEO Dr Jason Cummings. Photo: Adam McGrath.

“The reintroduction of these first six marsupials is part of our ambitious program to rewild ecosystems across NSW and give the community a sense of what our natural environment can be like when restored to its former glory.”

He decribed it as an exciting new chapter for Sydney’s wildlife, paving the way for the reintroduction of koalas, echidnas, bandicoots and locally extinct reptiles.

“Yiraaldiya is one of seven world-leading feral predator-free rewilding sites being delivered by the NSW Government, covering more than 65,000 hectares of NSW national park estate.”

Ms Sutherland Saines said Mulligans Flat was delighted to be involved in such a project so resources could be shared.

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Eastern bettongs, she said, small marsupials from the kangaroo family, were known as “ecosystem engineers”, scrounging around as they do for their favourite tucker – truffles.

They were also, she said, very “strong and fiesty”.

“So it will be a long night for everyone when we take them to Sydney,” she said. “We have to go in the middle of the night, driving in convoy so as not to stress them too much and so it’s not too hot as we’ll be going to western Sydney.

“We’ll have them in the cabin with us so it won’t be too noisy for them, and we’ll try to be as quiet as we can. We’ll also have a vet with us to check on their progress.”

Ms Sutherland Saines said eastern bettongs were ideal for such a project because they played such a crucial role in the environment, digging for truffles and aerating the soil in the process, creating holes to keep moisture in and for spores and seeds to grow.

bettong in tree

A bettong hides from predators in a tree within the Mulligans Flat sanctuary in Canberra’s suburbs. Photo: Charles Davis.

She also knows they’re not the easiest of native animals to deal with – she has hand raised seven of them during her time at Mulligans.

As a defence mechanism, she says, their mothers will throw the babies out of the pouch if they feel threatened – like if humans get a little too close.

“So there are usually some that need to be hand raised. But we do it in a way that they don’t get too attached so they can go back to live in the wild.”

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The bettongs going to Sydney were reintroduced at Mulligans Flat about 10 years ago.

ACT Minister for the Environment Rebecca Vassarotti said cross-jurisdictional partnerships like the one with NSW and Mulligans were critical for conserving Australia’s threatened species.

“Mulligans sanctuary has been a great success and it’s fantastic to see our animals now being translocated to support the population expansion elsewhere,” she said.

Translocating the eastern bettongs for conservation is being supported by partnerships with the Woodlands and Wetlands Conservation Trust and the ACT Parks and Conservation Service, which co-manage Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary and the Australian National University.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on Riotact.

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