Bettongs are booming in Canberra
Eastern bettongs, extinct on Australia’s mainland since the early 1900s, have doubled their numbers since being re-introduced from Tasmania to Mulligans Flat and Tidbinbilla nature reserves. Video supplied by ACT Territory and Municipal Services.PT3M25S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2giof 620 349 March 21, 2013
A lingering, truffle-laden honeymoon nearly a year after a marriage made in heaven on Canberra's sheltered outskirts could lead to only one thing.
A baby boom.
Eastern bettongs, extinct on Australia's mainland since the early 1900s, have doubled their numbers since being reintroduced from Tasmania to Mulligans Flat and Tidbinbilla nature reserves.
The eastern bettong. Photo: Karleen Minney
This week under a half moon at Tidbinbilla, ranger Elyce Fraser checked traps she laid on dusk, baited with carrot, corn and smeared with peanut butter and vanilla essence to lure her nocturnal prey.
On a mild evening with steam rising after light rainfall, the rabbit-sized bettongs couldn't resist.
Three hours later Queensland vet Dr Tim Portas cupped a gas mask on a female bettong held in a cloth bag. After a minute or so while the ether put her to sleep, he peeled off the bag for a thorough examination.
Elyce Fraser, Wildlife Officer, measures a bettong pouch at Tidbinbilla. Photo: Rohan Thomson
About 60 per cent of attempted reintroductions like this fail, so Dr Portas looks for signs of disease, like herpes or toxoplasmosis.
Before drawing a blood sample, he peers down her throat, checks her teeth, eyes, the excellent fat on her tail and notes scattered pimples inside her hind leg, probably from parasites as rare as the macropod itself. He spread apart tufts of fur to reveal a pouch in which a hairless, bacon-coloured joey squirmed under the glare of light.
Tidbinbilla's original 26 produced 27 young and the latest count is 19 pouch young. Mulligans Flat's population is expected to show similar numbers.
Parks and Conservation director Daniel Iglesias said having scientists from the CSIRO and ANU's Fenner school of environment and society working alongside ACT Parks and Conservation loaded the odds in the rare bettongs' favour.
''It really is a match made in heaven for once, it will be to the benefit of the environment that we have been able to get all these players together.''
Tidbinbilla's chief ranger, Dave Dobroszczyk, said preparation work, including bringing a truffle expert from North America and genetics selection, paved the way for breeding to flourish.
Truffles, or native fungi, are the bettong's staple diet and they were nibbling on lots soon after arriving in the territory.
Dr Portas said some of the bettongs from Tasmania's north were under the 1.65-kilogram average weight.
The female with joey he weighed this week came in at 1.95kg, and another older, one-eyed bettong weighed more than 2kg, showing the benefit of supplementary feeding at Tidbinbilla.
Having a lifespan of about five years, bettongs are breeding machines, able to nurse three joeys at once, with several teats that can nourish a newborn and older ones in and out of the pouch.