The crest-tailed mulgara, believed extinct in New South Wales for over a century, has just been spotted minding its business in the area in which it was thought to have perished. Once found across the deserts of inland Australia, this cute carnivorous marsupial went into decline due to an increase in other predatory animals like cats. Now there’s hope it might bounce back.
Until now, the crest-tailed mulgara was known to exist in New South Wales only from fossilized bone fragments. Nevertheless, a team from the University of New South Wales’ (UNSW) Wild Deserts project stumbled upon a very much alive mulgara just recently as they were carrying out scientific fieldwork.
“The Crest-tailed Mulgara was once widely distributed across sandy desert environments in inland Australia, but declined due to the effects of rabbits, cats and foxes,” said Dr Rebecca West, a Wild Deserts ecologist and researcher at UNSW.
“The species weighs around 150 grams and has pale blonde fur and a thick tail with a distinctive black crest.”
The little marsupial is mainly nocturnal and lives off a variety of insects and other invertebrates. This diet allows it to survive in the desert as it can get all its moisture from these juicy critters, and hence doesn't need to drink water.
Although it still exists in other areas of Australia, the crest-tailed mulgara is elusive, so its exact population size across Australia is unknown. What’s more, it often gets confused with other, similar species, like the brush-tailed mulgara, so assessing its population and conservation status is tricky.
Although the mulgara has significantly declined, there is hope for its future as the team is soon to begin removing predators and competitors from its habitat.
“Next year we are due to begin introduced predator and rabbit eradication from a large area, which will no doubt help the Mulgara,” said Wild Deserts project coordinator Reece Pedler.
“Rabbits, cats and foxes will be eradicated from two 20-square-kilometer [7.7-square-mile] fenced exclosures in Sturt National Park, before locally extinct mammals are reintroduced.”
The aim is to return various mammals species, which have been absent from their natural habitat for over 90 years, to Sturt National Park in the north-western corner of New South Wales. Other unique and endearing little creatures to be returned to this land include the western quoll, the western barred bandicoot, and the greater bilby.
It’s thought that the Crest-tailed mulgara has been bouncing back in recent times, particularly since rabbit calicivirus has been used to reduce rabbit numbers, which in turn has caused declines in the foxes and cats that prey on the mini marsupials.
At a time when a great deal of wildlife is facing extinction, discovering that the crest-tailed mulgara still inhabits New South Wales is an exciting find. Let’s hope similar discoveries happen too.