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How a First Nations-led WA wildlife sanctuary is helping return endangered bandicoots to NSW

Giovanni Torre -

One century after their local extinction, a group of golden bandicoots has made a 2000km charter flight from outback WA to the Strzelecki Desert in far-west New South Wales.

The Wild Deserts project, a collaboration between University of New South Wales scientists and the state's National Parks and Wildlife Service, consulted with Matuwa Traditional Owners represented by the Tarlka Matuwa Piarku Aboriginal Corporation in translocating the bandicoots.

About 40 bandicoots were released in late May into a 2000-hectare feral-proof fenced "exclosure", from which feral cats, foxes, and rabbits have been eradicated.

They have joined a population of greater bilbies established in the area last year.

Wild Deserts principal ecologist Rebecca West said the bandicoot's role as an "ecosystem engineer" would help to restore the health of the desert range.

"Their absence from the desert ecosystem has definitely been missed," she said.

"They also capitalise on good conditions and are able to breed throughout the year."

The bandicoots shelter in thick shrubs and spinifex, and by digging for their food, they turn over the soil, helping with nutrient cycling and plant growth.

The marsupials were translocated from the Matuwa Kurrara Kurrara Indigenous Protected Area, a reserve located in the central Western Australian desert on Martu Country.

Wiluna Rangers environment and operations manager Dorian Moro said it was one of two recent translocation projects involving important native species.

"Wild Deserts approached TMPAC and the IPA (Matuwa Kurrara Kurrara Indigenous Protected Area) team and asked permission for removing the golden bandicoots from their country and re-introducing them back to the Traditional Owners over east," he said.

"The IPA Team supported that as long as our Traditional Owners are involved in a partnership (and) as long as the rangers are involved in taking the animals from their Country to the other Country."

The other relocation involved burrowing bettongs, known in Western Australia as boodies to Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northern Territory.

"As long as there are sufficient animals in Matuwa for translocation, it is possible to take a serious number of animals," Mr Moro said.

"20-25 Boodies went to Newhaven, a good number to start a population elsewhere where they were previously extinct.

"It is a good opportunity for rangers to take part and to connect with other Traditional Owners and be part of the process."

Wongkumara and Maljangapa representatives, the Traditional Owners of Sturt National Park, welcomed the Wiluna Martu Rangers and the golden bandicoots to their Country.

The translocation was an important opportunity for cultural connection and exchange between these Traditional Owner groups.

The arrival of the fourth locally extinct species to Wild Deserts is another milestone in restoring the desert.

Ms West said the bandicoots were doing well in their new home.

"We engaged early on with the Traditional Owners of Matuwa when planning this translocation, gaining their support," she said.

"We have also worked closely with our colleagues from the WA Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions to organise the logistics around this translocation."

The golden bandicoot is a significant species to the Wangkumara and Maljangapa people.

The Sturt National Park project is part of the New South Wales government's $40 million feral predator-free area partnerships project, which is returning at least 13 mammal species currently extinct in NSW back into the wild.

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