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French Island Threatened Species Update from Zoos Victoria

March 21, 2024

Dr Amy Coetsee-Threatened Species Biologist, Zoos Victoria

Meg Farmer (Zoos Vic) processing a potoroo in the field

We hope you enjoy reading about French Island’s wonderful threatened species and our research into them. If you have any questions about the information in this update, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

In an effort to understand the habitat use and population size of Long- Nosed Potoroos on the Island, we conducted an island-wide 6 week trapping project throughout July and August last year. We sampled the potoroo population at a total of 31 sites, spread across the island in different habitat types, including sites both in the National Park and on private property (22 in the park; 9 on private land). Ten cage traps were laid at each site and trapped for three consecutive nights, following a week of free feeding (baiting traps and leaving them cable tied open) to encourage potoroos to enter the traps.

It can be difficult to get the potoroos to leave the bag on a cold winter’s night

With reports of increased potoroo sightings across the island, we were expecting busy nights, but we were vastly underprepared for the sheer enormity of our captures! Across our 31 sites, we had a mammoth 400 total potoroo captures, of 268 individual potoroos (172 male: 96 female). Given that we caught potoroos at all but 3 of our sites, at a glance it seems that potoroos didn’t seem to discriminate by habitat type, with the exception of avoiding open pastures. However, we are currently working on an in-depth habitat analysis to have a greater understanding of their habitat preferences. We’re looking forward to sharing our findings with you when we get the results.

A bandicoot venturing back out into the wild after recovering from anaesthetic

Clearly, the increased rainfall we’ve enjoyed over the past few years combined with reduced feral cat numbers has resulted in ideal conditions for these wonderful animals. This project has provided an important baseline understanding of how the potoroo population currently stands, to be compared against in future years as environmental conditions change.

This project wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of the amazing French Island community. Thank you so much to everyone who volunteered their land and time toward this project; it was a mammoth effort, and we couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you also to the wonderful Parks Victoria staff for sharing their invaluable knowledge of the park, and for giving up sleep to help on trapping nights.

The Eastern Barred Bandicoot and Long-Nosed Potoroo population in Bluegums is generally trapped every spring and autumn to see how they are faring. A Zoos Victoria vet team also joins us to bleed the bandicoots and potoroos to test them for Toxoplasmosis, a disease spread by cats that can be fatal to marsupials. Due to some very busy schedules, trapping occurred a bit later this year, in the first week of summer. We weren’t sure how this would affect our results, however a cooler and wetter start to summer worked in our favour and we were kept busy with a bumper week.

On average, we generally catch between 8 and 26 bandicoots and 2 and 12 potoroos. This time we caught 55 bandicoots (29 male: 26 female), with 25 being caught for the first time. Though we fell just short of our record of 56 bandicoots (from April 2023),  we were extremely excited to see a more even sex ratio when we usually have a strong male bias. Of the females caught, 4 were carrying pouch young, some of which were very large and furred, which is always very special to see.

For the potoroos it was a record breaking week, with 29 individuals (19 males: 11 females) being caught, with almost half (14) being caught for the first time. Our previous record for Bluegums was 20 potoroos (from April 2023), so this was an exciting jump in capture rates and heartening to see this species flourishing. Eight of the eleven females were carrying pouch young, including one with two pinkies, which we rarely see.

These wonderful results wouldn’t have been possible without the enormous dedication and enthusiasm of the amazing volunteers from the community, who gave up their time (and sleep!) to help out. A massive thank-you to everyone who was involved, we hope to see you again in autumn!

April Trapping Dates

Whether you’re a seasoned volunteer or haven’t yet joined us for a night of trapping, we would love to see you in April!

Everyone is welcome and no experience necessary.

The next bandicoot and potoroo trapping in Bluegums (French Island) will be from the 8th – 10th April 2024.

We are trapping after daylight savings ends so it will be an earlier start and possibly an earlier finish.

Orange-Bellied Parrots 

threatened species orange bellied parrot on a branchThe critically endangered Orange-Bellied Parrot is one of three migratory parrots found in the world. They breed in south-west Tasmania then fly to the mainland to spend the winter months primarily in saltmarsh habitat along the south-eastern coastline. Each winter, only 7-15% of individuals are sighted on the mainland. This is a major knowledge gap, as little can be done to help protect and restore important migration and over- winter habitat if these locations remain unknown.

In early 2023, Zoos Victoria and NRE Tas ran a successful pilot study fitting captive- bred Orange-Bellied Parrots with transmitters pre-release to follow their migration North using fixed receiver stations. In early 2024, the program will be expanded with more tagged birds and more receiver stations.

Orange-Bellied Parrots have been seen on French Island, making the island a great location to put a station if a suitable, accessible location can be found. Ideally the receiver will be placed close to the salt marsh on the North of the island.

A receiver station installed on the mainland

Receiver stations include a 6-8m high aluminium mast with 2 small antennae at the top, a small solar panel and a metal box containing the necessary hardware. The receiver station needs to be installed in February/March 2024, and left in place for six months to record all migrating tagged birds that may pass by or spend time on the island.

If you have a property in the North of the island and are interested in hosting a receiver station, please get in touch.

If you would like to be involved please contact [email protected].

Like to know more? Read more of Dr Amy Coetsee’s work in this great article:

Why move species to islands? Saving wildlife as the world changes means taking calculated risks (theconversation.com)

 

 

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