By Stephen Brend- Project Science Officer
Our project “Can the Bandicoot Cross the Road?”, an assessment of the feasibility of using translocation as a conservation tool for Southern Brown Bandicoots, is entering its final stage. It is very exciting. The first phase of the project looked at the practicalities and feasibility of translocating bandicoots: what was required, what it would cost, what would be the likely outcome? The conclusion, as we have reported earlier, was that translocation was not only feasible, it was recommended. There seems no other way to reestablish a population of bandicoots. They cannot disperse on their own. There are two many threats and obstacles.
The next question we looked at was where the bandicoots come from? Here, we got a surprise. There is not one single eligible source population left in the State. All Southern Brown Bandicoot populations are showing very low levels of genetic diversity. If we moved animals from one location, we would not only bring that problem into the Biosphere Reserve, we might make it worse. Only a relatively small number of individuals would be translocated to act as the founders of the new population. Fewer individuals means fewer mate choices and that inevitably leads to a decline in genetic diversity. This is a problem as it could lead to poorer health, reduced fertility and increased susceptibility to disease. The only solution is to source bandicoots from either a genetically diverse population or individuals from multiple populations that are geographically separated, such as from East Gippsland and Mt Rothwell, in the west. Each breeding cycle would then bring about genetic mixing, hopefully, leading to a genetically healthy translocated population.
The third issue we looked at was suitable sites into which bandicoots could be released. The Department for Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) laid out some strict criteria. Foremost amongst these was that the site had to be greater than 200Ha with effective introduced predator control. There was an obvious candidate: Millowl (Phillip Island). Extensive discussions and site visits have resulted in agreement in principle for us to work with Phillip Island Nature Parks on this.
We are not ready to establish a SBB population on Millowl yet. There is more work to be done and we need to secure adequate funding. However, we are establishing the connections – that’s our strength – and laying out the pathway ahead. The final part of the project will be a translocation proposal written in accordance with DEECA’s template. We are very grateful to Gippsland transport for funding this work.