Wildlife Recovers After Kangaroo Island Bushfires
Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team
Date: December 21, 2021 1:45 am
Researcher Alexandra Ross with a western pygmy possum found during a recent survey on Kangaroo Island
Photo Credit: Lachlan McRae/ Australian Wildlife Conservancy
Recent biodiversity studies conducted on Kangaroo Island have revealed that wildlife is bouncing back, two years after devastating fires swept the island.
The Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife (KI LfW) collaborated on a week long survey across ten sites. This revealed that populations of small mammals and native frogs are beginning to recover.
December 20th 2019 saw a lightning strike along the northern coast of Kangaroo Island spark one of the worst bushfires ever recorded on the island. By the end of January 2020 the island had lost near half of its vegetation.
A Kangaroo Island dunnart sighted during a recent survey
Photo Credit: Pat Hammond/ Australian Wildlife Conservancy
“AWC's on-ground experience made us well-placed to act quickly to protect the Kangaroo Island Dunnart and other species which were suffering after the catastrophic fires,” AWC Chief Executive Officer, Tim Allard, said.
“We had boots on the ground immediately after the fires, working collaboratively with Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, and local landholders, to establish water and shelter points in burnt areas and to assess the damage to wildlife,” Allard said. “Together, we were able to take AWC’s experience and KI LfW knowledge of the local ecology to create an initial feral predator exclosure to help protect many of the species which may have otherwise perished.”
“As Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife had already undertaken extensive planning for the construction of the Western River Refuge, we were able to quickly establish an initial 13.6-hectare feral predator-free exclosure, which, thanks to the support of the Australian Army and many volunteers, was constructed in a record six weeks.”
Following this initial work a formal partnership flourished and had led to the establishment of the Western River Refuge. This 359 hectare area is protected by an 8.8 kilometre feral predator-proof fence.
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The recent field studies were conduction within the refuge and the adjacent Western River Wilderness Protection Area.
Pat Hodgens, Field Ecologist for KI LfW, and Kangaroo Island resident, witnessed first-hand the devastation of the wildfires and the ongoing recovery over the last two years on the island.
“The bushfires were devastating, and we were particularly concerned for the Kangaroo Island Dunnart,” Hodgens said. “By some estimates, only 500 Kangaroo Island Dunnarts were there even before the fires impacted 95 percent of their habitat.
“The Western River Refuge looks to now be protecting many species – not just Kangaroo Island Dunnarts. Feral cats are the major cause for mammal extinction in Australia and their occurrence on Kangaroo Island is a significant threat to local wildlife.
“The fenced haven we have created provides protection for our native species and it has been really rewarding to see the bush coming back to life,” Hodgens said. "It is early days, but all signs are looking really good!” he added. “The results strongly suggest that feral predator removal is having a positive impact on the small mammals, which are slowly coming back. We have even detected female KI dunnarts with pouch young on camera traps so that is the greatest measure of success.”
A western pygmy possum found during a recent survey on Kangaroo Island
Photo Credit: Aly Ross/ Australian Wildlife Conservancy
The biodiversity study helped to reveal the effectiveness of the refuge. 25% more captures occurred inside the feral cat exclusion area with nearly double the diversity of species recorded inside the fence against outside.
A range of species including the western pygmy possum and bush rats, which both saw significant impacts to their population after the fires were recorded.
AWC carries out Australia’s largest biodiversity monitoring program, with over 200,000 trap nights every year providing essential data about the ecological health of our sanctuaries and partnership areas.
The fenceline of the western river refuge on Kangaroo Island which will protect a range of endangered species affected by the fires
Photo Credit: Andy Howe/ Australian Wildlife Conservancy