Victoria announced a victory for conservation this week, as officials shared some good news concerning a fluffy marsupial that was thought to be extinct in the wild. Luckily for the eastern barred bandicoot, over three decades of conservation efforts has meant that they have been upgraded to endangered in the Australian state, with hopes the population will continue to stabilize in a more bandicoot-friendly environment.
The momentous occasion is all the more special as it marks the first time Australia has been able to promote an animal’s status from “extinct in the wild” to “endangered”. “We are excited to announce the change in conservation status for the Eastern Barred Bandicoot from extinct in the wild to endangered,” said Lily D'Ambrosio, Environment Minister for Victoria, in an announcement on Wednesday. “It is an incredible first for Australia.”
Having once been a common sight on the grassy plains of southwest Victoria, bandicoots almost disappeared from the region in the face of mainland foxes and habitat destruction which pushed them to near extinction. The final wild population was clinging on just outside of Hamilton and sat at around just 150 animals. However, with a little help from conservation scientists, volunteers and dogs, they have bloomed to an estimated 1,500.
The fight for the species' survival began back in the 1980s when conservationists committed to protecting the rapidly depleting eastern barred bandicoot population. Millions of dollars were poured into the project, which funded captive breeding programs to establish a genetically diverse reserve population out of the wild.
Efforts then shifted to improving the living conditions for these adorable but apparently delicious prey animals, as teams set up four predator-free sites where wild bandicoots could live free of the risk of becoming dinner at Woodlands Historic Park, Hamilton Community Parklands, Mt Rothwell, and Tiverton. Dogs also joined the good fight in Skipton and Dunkeld as Zoos Victoria’s Guardian Dogs lent a paw patrolling the perimeter to keep foxes away.
Some lucky bandicoots even took a holiday to safely roam on the fox-free islands of Phillip, Churchill and French, where the bandicoots are reported to be thriving. All of these sites combined have given rise to the estimated 1,500 animals which have enabled Australia to change the species’ classification.
According to World Wildlife Fund Australia, the country has the worst extinction rate of any country in the world. In the wake of unprecedented wildfires in 2019-20 (the smoke from which triggered a phytoplankton bloom bigger than the continent) the grisly accolade is perhaps unsurprising, but the happy tale of this little bandicoot demonstrates that with a little bit of elbow grease, future losses can be prevented.