WA’s endangered numbat population estimate doubles, greater protections sought for habitat from Environment Minister Reece Whitby

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“It is promising to hear the numbat population there is doing well and bigger than first thought,” Whitby said.

“I visited recently and it was very clear to me this is an extremely important conservation area.

“Following our decision to ban native logging – which will be critical to maintaining biodiversity and forest health – I am keen to look at further protection for the area to ensure it remains a stronghold for the numbat and other endangered animals.”

Greens MP Brad Pettitt said it was vital its habitats received the highest protection available to the state.

“After all the numbat is WA’s state emblem,” he said.

“Designating the areas around Peru in the Upper Warren area, like recently occurred with the Dryandra Woodland National Park, would be a significant step towards offering this important species a more certain future.”

Counting numbats

Scientists usually use non-lethal traps to catch small mammals but UWA PhD student Sian Thorn, who authored the new study on numbat numbers sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, said the stripey animal was too tricky for that.

“They’re just so cryptic,” she said.

“They’re hard to see in the wild and they only eat termites, so you can’t bait them. They won’t go into conventional cage trapping methods.”

Instead, Thorn and a team of researchers found they could model the density of the Upper Warren numbats by examining their stripes as captured by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attraction camera traps placed in five locations.

A map of numbat sightings in the Upper Warren from 1990 to 2021.
A map of numbat sightings in the Upper Warren from 1990 to 2021.Credit:CSIRO Wildlife Research

The cameras could be left running all day and with home ranges of 25 to 50 hectares there were always numbats running by and triggering photos.

They were able to identify individual numbats from their unique stripe patterns and then model the size of the Upper Warren’s total population.

“We had an idea that there was a pretty decent population there,” Thorn said “It’s always great when you’re working on a species there’s not a lot of and you find there is more.”

The camera trap data dated back from 2016 and 2017 and Thorn said she wanted to figure out the best way to set up the cameras to use them as a tool in the future to monitor numbat numbers.

Thorn said despite getting a better idea of ​​how many numbats were left, the population was still very small.

But authorities are confident the Upper Warren will be a place for rare species to thrive thanks to its fox and cat control programs.

The Departments research senior scientist Adrian Wayne, in a video with Whitby, said there was so much space in the region for the numbats to live long and prosperous lives.

“For the last 20 years we thought the number of numbats was less than 1000, but just in this once place … we’ve got more than 1000 to 2000 and they’ve got room to grow as our fox control and our cat control expand,” he said.

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