Reintroduction of locally extinct mammals - questions and answers

Why are locally extinct mammals being reintroduced?

Australia has the worst mammal extinction record in the world. Since European settlement, twenty-five mammal species have become extinct in NSW and of the surviving mammal species fifty nine per cent are threatened with extinction. It is crucial that we act now to halt this decline in NSW’s mammal species.

The reintroduction of locally extinct mammals into national parks is an innovative new measure under the Saving our Species program. This will be the first time in NSW that locally extinct mammals will be released into large predator-free areas in national parks. Most of these species have not been seen in their natural habitat in NSW for over 90 years.

Which mammals will be reintroduced?

The mammals to be reintroduced are listed as 'presumed extinct' in NSW. While they survive in the wild elsewhere in Australia, almost all are listed nationally as threatened with extinction. More than 10 mammals will be reintroduced, including the iconic bilby, numbat and brush-tailed bettong. The final list of species will be announced in the coming weeks.

Why have national parks been chosen?

Many national parks include large areas of suitable habitat to protect a diverse number of native plants and animals in perpetuity. Reintroducing mammal species that were formally found in the wild in NSW will increase that diversity. In addition, the associated conservation management activities will help improve the quality of park ecosystems and the species that depend on them. The fenced areas will likely comprise less than 0.15% of the approximately seven million hectares of national parks in NSW. 

All activities will be undertaken in accordance with relevant legislation and park management objectives.

Which national parks will be involved?

The final selection of parks is still being determined but will be in the western part of the state. Parks being considered are those that contain the original habitats of the species to be reintroduced and where other park uses are not likely to be affected by reintroduction activities.

Who will manage this project?

The Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and the Wildlife Restoration and Management Partnership (WRAMP), led by the University of NSW, have been selected to enter into negotiations with OEH to reintroduce locally extinct mammals to national parks. Both organisations have extensive experience in reintroduction programs and large-scale conservation management. The partners have been selected following an extensive selection process which began in April 2014. The initial partnership agreements will span the next decade, subject to rigorous ongoing scientific monitoring and evaluation.

AWC and WRAMP will work in close partnership with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to deliver reintroduction activities and associated park management services.

Will this project benefit other species?

Yes. Successful reintroduction will require intensive management to remove threats to the reintroduced species. Foxes and cats in particular are a main cause of small mammal decline. Their removal will benefit other small mammals as well as many reptiles and bird species. We hope that up to 50 additional threatened species may benefit from this project. In addition, small to mid-sized mammals act as ‘environmental engineers’ that play a vital role in the health of ecosystems. Their activities help retain water and nutrients as well as assisting seed dispersal. This in turn helps to promote healthy vegetation. 

Where will the 'reintroduced' mammals come from?

While these mammals are extinct in the wild in New South Wales, they still survive in the wild in other places across the country.  Other large fenced areas in conservation reserves and special captive breeding populations have also been established for example, the Perth Zoo breeds numbats for release in the wild. 

How will the reintroduced species be protected?

Exclusion areas of several thousand hectares each will be established in NSW national parks. Each area will be surrounded by fencing to exclude cats, foxes and other introduced animals. 

Once the fencing is built, all introduced predators will be removed, as well as other pest animals such as goats and rabbits which may have an impact on the habitat inside each enclosure. The mammals can then be reintroduced. The fence will be regularly checked and maintained, and the enclosure regularly monitored for any signs of pest animals.. A rigorous monitoring and evaluation program will form a fundamental part of the project and will help to detect any change in the size of populations, as well as the health of animals.

Why are fences needed? 

In the absence of a pest-proof fence, almost every attempt to reintroduce small mammals has failed, largely through predation by foxes and cats. Because of the on-going threat these introduced predators face, release into unfenced areas is not currently possible for most species.

Will these fenced areas be like zoos?

No. The fenced areas will be several thousand hectares in size and the objective is to establish self-sustaining, wild populations to help restore park ecosystems. The entire area within the enclosures will be managed as a whole ecosystem, just like outside the fence, with all the same species. The only difference is that pest animals will be absent.

The fenced areas will be embedded in larger areas of national parks covering more than 200,000 hectares.

Is conservation fencing effective?

The 2013 Australian Senate Committee Report into the "Effectiveness of threatened species and ecological communities' protection in Australia" recognised the success of predator-proof sanctuaries in helping to protect and recover threatened species.

There are several examples of where predator fencing has increased the population of reintroduced mammal species. For example, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) has used pest-proof fence to significantly increase the populations of endangered species such as the numbat, bridled nail-tail wallaby, and brush-tailed bettong, in the Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary in western NSW. In South Australia, the Arid Recovery project has seen the return of the bilby, greater stick nest rat, burrowing bettong and western barred bandicoot into a 123km2 fenced reserve.

When will the mammals be reintroduced?

Following the registration of interest period, the NSW Government is finalising the selection process. We expect the project to commence by mid 2015. One of the first stages will be to undertake an environmental impact assessment in each of the relevant parks. It is expected that fences will be constructed in 2016. Mammals will be reintroduced once all introduced predators have been removed from the enclosure. This is expected to be in 2017.

How much will the project cost?

Funding for the project is in addition to existing funding for Saving our Species projects and NPWS funding. Details will be announced soon.

Will the project have any negative ecological impacts?

There will be many positive changes associated with the removal of pest animals and the restoration of some ecosystem services by small-medium sized mammals. However, the project will also monitor ecological impacts, such as soil erosion, whether vegetation can sustain the population of reintroduced mammals, and whether fencing will have any impacts on larger animals.  

Are there any further benefits to the project?

Yes. The establishment of large areas free from pest species will deliver improved conservation for a range of other species including, potentially, threatened birds such as malleefowl as well as other birds and small native mammals that are vulnerable to cat and fox predation.  The focus on pest animal control may also lead to improved strategies and techniques that can be shared with landholders and which will inform conservation strategies for many other threatened species.

In addition, the project represents a substantial investment in regional NSW. It will create new and unique visitor opportunities for the public to engage with these parks, for example, through guided nocturnal walks to see bilbies and other animals in the wild.  

Will there be a fee to visit the national parks where mammals have been reintroduced?

Many existing national parks have a visitor fee. Any visitor fee related to this initiative will be re-invested in the park estate.

Page last updated: 21 April 2015