The Gilbert’s potoroo were on the brink of extinction when a group of local volunteers stepped in to help save one of Australia’s most endangered marsupials.
The potoroo, the smallest member of the kangaroo family, was thought to be extinct for 120 years before its rediscovery at Two Peoples Bay in 1994.
The Gilberts Potoroo Action Group (GPAG) was formed in the early 2000s after a number of Albany locals took it upon themselves to help protect the native animal.
20 years of conservation
GPAG have since been operating as a not-for-profit community volunteer group to raise funds, create awareness and provide volunteer support for conservation work.
The group are this year celebrating their 20th anniversary, marking two decades of volunteer work.
Their celebrations will go hand-in-hand with the 60th anniversary of the rediscovery of the Noisy Scrub Bird, which led to the discovery of the potoroo through its protection.
Val Hack has been volunteering with the group since its inception, undertaking multiple roles as treasurer and with hands-on groundwork.
Ms Hack said the potoroos were on the brink of extinction when she joined the group.
“If they hadn’t been found when they were and that fire [2015 fire at Two Peoples Bay] went through that basically would have been the end of them,” she said.
“We would never have known they were still there.”
GPAG work alongside the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) to assist with radio tracking, population monitoring and truffle collection – the potoroo’s food source.
Since 2004, the group have fundraised over $100,000 to assist DBCA with its conservation efforts and have recently been the recipients of State Natural Resource Management grants to assist project funding.
GPAG Communications Coordinator Dr Jackie Courtenay was a research officer on the Gilbert’s Potoroo Project shortly after the rediscovery, before becoming directly involved with the volunteer group.
“I’ve only been involved actively for the last five-and-a-half-years but there are people like Val who have been the treasurer since the first day,” Dr Courtenay said.
“I just feel so privileged to be involved in working with something so critically endangered and being able to contribute to its conservation.”
Saving animals from extinction
Dr Courtenay said many of the group’s members share the same passion and commitment to conserving wildlife.
“We’ve got this critically endangered animal on the doorstep, with the opportunity to actually do something to help conserve the rarest marsupial in the world,” she said.
“To be able to actively contribute and the privilege to be involved over a long period of time to help save an animal which is so rare and beautiful.”
A testament to their survival
The Gilbert’s potoroos have proved resilient over time, after a fire at Two People’s Bay in 2015 wiped out 15 of the believed 20 potoroos living in the area.
According to GPAG, the Gilbert’s potoroos now have a global population of nearly 100 animals across Mount Gardner in Two Peoples Bay, Bald Island Nature Reserve and at Waychinicup National Park in a predator proof enclosure.
Ms Hack said she’s glad the group were able to assist the potoroos survival throughout the challenges they endured.
“I guess our hope was that we still had a reason to go on, that the potoroos are still there,” she said.
“I think everyone feels the same way, whatever we can do to help keep them alive and going, we were quite happy to do.”
The group will celebrate their 20th year anniversary at a South Coast Threatened Species Forum over December 4 and 5, with further celebrations yet to be confirmed.