Once widespread across the deserts of inland Australia, the Crest-tailed Mulgara was largely wiped out by invasive rabbits, cats and foxes. The cutesy carnivorous marsupial hasn't been seen in the state of New South Wales for a century, but environment scientists from a university in Sydney have recently rediscovered the creature in the area, alive and well.
Though it looks like a mouse, the Crest-tailed Mulgara is more closely related to the Tasmanian Devil. Chowing down on small mammals, reptiles and insects, the Mulgara sports sandy-colored fur, with a black crest on its tail that gives it its name.
Like many other native Australian species, the Mulgara struggled to survive after early European settlers introduced rabbits and foxes to the country. Predation by foxes and competition with fast-breeding rabbits for land restricted the Mulgara population to the innermost parts of the Australian outback, and the creatures have been presumed extinct in New South Wales for about 100 years.
A conservation project called Wild Deserts is setting up the Sturt National Park as a sanctuary for native fauna, including the Mulgara.
"The aim of this project is to return mammal species not seen in their natural habitat for over 90 years in Sturt National Park," says Jaymie Norris, the National parks and Wildlife Service area manager. "Rabbits, cats and foxes will be eradicated from two 20-square-kilometer (7.7 sq mi) fenced exclosures in Sturt National Park, before locally extinct mammals are reintroduced. Reintroduced native mammal species will include Greater Bilby, Burrowing Bettong, Western Quoll and Western Barred Bandicoot."
But to the team's surprise, it seems the Mulgara couldn't wait, discovering that it had already moved into the area on its own. That marks the first time the animal has been seen alive in the state in living memory, and the Wild Deserts team believes that's thanks to conservation efforts in progress.
Over the past few decades, culling has reduced feral cat and fox numbers, while viruses have helped control rabbit populations. As a result, the Mulgara population in other areas has bounced back, and its territory has expanded. Hopefully, the efforts of Wild Deserts and other programs will help stabilize populations.
"Next year we are due to begin introduced predator and rabbit eradication from a large area, which will no doubt help the Mulgara," says Wild Deserts project coordinator, Reece Pedler.