New research project to help save critically endangered western ringtail possums

Rehabilitated western ringtail possums will soon be enrolled in finishing school prior to being released into the wild thanks to a new five-year collaborative research project.

From June 2019, Fostering and Assistance for Wildlife Needing Aid will work with the South West Catchments Council, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, UWA and vets to assess, microchip and register possums in one location prior to their release into bush land.

Each year about 200 western ringtail possums come into care for a variety of reasons.

The majority are pouch young and have been orphaned or abandoned as a result of road trauma, dog and cat attacks, habitat loss or disease. Rescued animals are kept in private homes and released in uncontrolled conditions with uncertain outcomes.

FAWNA president Suzi Strapp said the strategic pre-release process would reduce stress on the animals and lead to more efficient use of time and resources.

Ms Strapp said human contact would be kept to a minimum and feed from the target release sites would be introduced before the animals were released to reduce rejection of site foliage.

“All FAWNA western ringtail possums will be microchipped so the fate of possums raised in care may be monitored beyond the six-month lifespan of radio collars,” she said.

“We are overjoyed that we will finally have scientific evidence-based outcomes to help us develop best practice approaches in rescue, rehabilitation and release of these precious animals.”

Endemic to the South West, the western ringtail possum is listed as critically endangered with less than 8000 individuals in the adult population.

A new database is also being developed by the SWCC to gather essential data throughout the life of captured possums, including their experiences post-release.

Researchers will seek to understand the fate of orphaned pouch young which are raised by carers to see what release methods and site characteristics impact their survival.

SWCC threatened species program manager doctor Brian Chambers said the collaborative approach to research would bring researchers and hands-on wildlife teams together.

Mr Chambers said this would ensure efficient information sharing and better solutions to help stem the decline of the species.

“With 200 animals coming into care each year from the wild, improving the outcomes of released animals has the potential to significantly improve the outlook for the species," he said. 

"This project will ensure the countless hours devoted to caring for these animals will achieve the best outcomes."

Members of the public can help the project by donating to a construction fund for pre-release aviaries, visit fawna.com.au for more information. 

This project is supported by the South West Catchments Council, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.