Critically endangered: There are less than 170 Southern Brush Tail Rock Wallabies left in existence.

Critically endangered: There are less than 170 Southern Brush Tail Rock Wallabies left in existence.

Critically endangered rock wallabies get extra protection with smart fence technology

Endangered rock wallabies get extra protection with smart fence technology

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A new protected reserve that will be home to a colony of critically endangered rock wallabies has received a major boost as a recipient in the Gallagher Landcare Electric Fencing Grants program.

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This is sponsored content for Gallagher.

When the deadly 2019/2020 bushfires threatened populations of the critically-endangered Southern Brush Tail Rock Wallaby it triggered an even greater sense of urgency for the conservationists dedicated to saving them from extinction.

After the horror of seeing the fires heading towards two of the three key sites where numbers of the wallabies survive - a wild colony in Victoria's Gippsland region and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in the ACT - they realised a better fire-proofing strategy was needed to safeguard the future of the rare mammals.

"There are less than 170 of these animals left in existence - they are a super rare and we had fires heading towards two of three important populations of them - it was terrifying," said Annette Rypalski, the biodiversity director of Mount Rothwell conservation and research reserve, where a third population lives.

"It really triggered a huge concern that we didn't have these populations spread out enough - that we basically had all our eggs, or wallabies, in one basket. We needed to have more sites."

An opportunity to do just that opened up soon after - a philanthropist heard the story and offered to help. She bought a 600 hectare area of land that had been part of a grazing property near Avenel, two hours north of Melbourne, gifting it to be used as a new predator-free fenced sanctuary for the wallabies.

Safe haven: The rugged rocky site of Widgewah Conservation Reserve is perfect habitat for the wallabies,

Safe haven: The rugged rocky site of Widgewah Conservation Reserve is perfect habitat for the wallabies,

Now named Widgewah Conservation Reserve and under the guidance of the not-for-profit Odonata Foundation, which also supports Mount Rothwell, it's being prepared to accept its first residents.

The vision is for Widgewah to be Australia's largest fenced safe haven for the wallabies - once endemic to the area - as well as a host of other species.

It's hoped the area will eventually support 5000 of the wallabies and see them removed from the critically-endangered list.

Construction of the predator-proof fencing that will protect the population from foxes and cats is underway and it's expected the first wallabies will be translocated to the site in autumn 2022.

"It's all happened very quickly - it's probably the fastest conservation project of this kind I've ever heard of," said Ms Rypalski, who is also the biodiversity director for Odonata.

"The bushfires finished in about February 2020 and it was March when they bought the land and then April we started fencing it. It's a massive project that's going to have huge impact.

"This is the most effective conservation outcome for the Southern Brush Tail Rock Wallaby in 40 years or longer in the whole history of their recovery."

Additional support for the project has come from many sources and from as far away as the Czech Republic.

Early in the planning, the Prague Zoo contributed funding for fencing material for 80 hectares which has formed the first stage of Widgewah.

And just recently the project received a major boost when it was named one of 14 recipients of the 2021 Gallagher Landcare Electric Fencing Grants program.

The program aims to support improved grazing management and conservation across the nation providing a combination of Gallagher Electric Fencing and monetary support to facilitate projects.

The Gallagher Landcare Electric Fencing Grant is facilitating the installation of a Gallagher i Series Electric Fencing system featuring remote monitoring capabilities, and is set to play a key role in ensuring the wallabies are securely protected from predators.

"It was terrifying": Annette Rypalski carrying a Southern Brush Tail Rock Wallaby.

"It was terrifying": Annette Rypalski carrying a Southern Brush Tail Rock Wallaby.

While the rugged rocky site is perfect habitat for the wallabies, it does present challenges for the ongoing maintenance of the fence.

"So we're really excited about the remote monitoring systems. It means we can have complete confidence that we can keep the foxes out of the fenced sanctuary," said Ms Rypalski.

"It means our mobile phones can be notified if there is a breach of the fence and we can respond immediately - it could be a tree limb falling down or somebody who tries to trespass and cuts the wires.

"Getting this site pest free will take us years and so the last thing we want is a breach that could allow a fox or cat in and set us back again. Even it was in the middle of the night we can respond and fix the faults to make sure nothing gets in."

The damage a fox or cat can do to native wildlife is something Ms Rypalski has seen firsthand.

"The cats decapitate the wallabies, just eat the heads off and leave the rest, especially the joeys," she said.

"A fox will predate and sometimes bury it or take it to its den. Or sometimes they just leave the body there, they don't eat a lot of it."

Work on the first stage of Widgewah is now focused on ensuring pests have been eradicated ahead of the arrival of the founding residents - between 20 and 40 Southern Brush Tail Rock Wallabies from Mt Rothwell.

It's expected numbers will grow to around 200 within two years - the highest population of the animals in 40 years.

"By then we will have the second stage ready that will add another 400 hectares and looping in the Gallagher system, which will potentially support about 5000 of them and lead to a down-listing of the species," said Ms Rypalski.

"That might take around seven to ten years depending on our resources; after that we'll be able to potentially overflow them into the national parks or state parks around here.

"The higher the number the safer they are. For now it's all about finding safe havens for them and I hope this is just one of many to come."

This is sponsored content for Gallagher.

The story Critically endangered rock wallabies get extra protection with smart fence technology first appeared on The Land.

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