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Endangered long-footed potoroo bouncing back from the brink after Black Summer

Up to 70 per cent of the long-footed potoroo’s habitat was destroyed in the Black Summer bushfires.

It is safe to say the long-footed potoroo is hard to find. 

In fact, this adorable, endangered “rat kangaroo” can only be found in three tiny pockets in the world — in south-east NSW, far East Gippsland and Victoria’s remote Barry Mountains.

When bushfires tore through much of both states’ wilderness regions in 2019-20, things weren’t looking good for the small marsupial.

“During the Black Summer bushfires, 70 per cent of their known Victorian habitat was burnt and destroyed,” Elizabeth Wemyss from Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) said.

But it was hard to know exactly what the impact had been, so for two sessions over two years cameras were set up in remote parts of Victorian bushland and watched.

In the second session, 148 camera sites were set up to survey more than 300,000 hectares of public land in the Barry Mountains and surrounds.

The results were promising.

“We’re really lucky to have these little animals and we’re really lucky that they’re being seen in larger numbers in places that are burnt,” Ms Wemyss said.

Potoroos were spotted in places they had not previously been seen in during the 2021 survey.(Supplied: DELWP)

Not out of the woods

Potoroos were spotted at 53 of the camera sites, an increase from the year before.

“They’re using the landscape in ways that we weren’t expecting,” Ms Wemyss said.

“That provides us with more information about them, where they are and how we can better protect the areas that they’re in.”

The project was a collaborative effort, combining the knowledge of DELWP, Parks Victoria, the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research and the Taungurung Land and Waters Council.

“To be able to be a part of surveying the fire damage and actually going out and being on country after such a significant event, the sense of the devastation was a bit breathtaking,” Taungurung man Noah Honeysett said.

“But to be able to see how country has healed and how it’s healing, and to be able to see how the animals have adapted to that is an eye-opener.”

But the potoroo is not safe yet.

Other native animals will be protected by an extended fox baiting program(Supplied: DELWP)

Ms Wemyss says it is great to see them coming back in bigger numbers, but they are still endangered.

“The potoroo is a resilient little guy, but they are in very small, isolated patches, so that’s the real problem,” she said.

“Every time they’re knocked back, there’s only a small amount to be knocked back from.

“The main threats to the potoroo’s survival can be directly attributed to bushfires, climate change and predation by introduced species like foxes and feral cats.”

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Baiting program begins

An extended fox baiting program has now been launched, starting in the Dandongadale, Buffalo River and Buckland state forests.

It will then be rolled out in parts of the Tea Tree Range state forests and the Alpine National Park.

It is hoped the program will eliminate some of the worst predators and protect other native animals that are being impacted.

The program will be completed in June and Ms Wemyss hopes the monitoring and the baiting will receive ongoing funding, so the groups can continue to protect the long-footed potoroo from the challenges it faces.

Mr Honeysett said the project felt like a real group effort and seemed like a step in the right direction in terms of co-managing country.

“I guess it’s a kind of way of healing country together,” he said.

“I think there is great importance in seeing everyone as equals as we move forward — we definitely want to have a bigger role in managing country.”

He says it is the only way that special places and animals will survive and thrive in the future.

“I think it all boils down to the saying, ‘Take care of country and country will take care of you’,” he said.



Katherine Smyrk at ABC News

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