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Welcome home rodents

Shark Bay Mouse on Faure Island. (Wayne Lawler, Australian Wildlife Conservancy. )

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More than 130 native rodents have been returned to Dirk Hartog Island in an effort to save two threatened species, with the help of inmates at Albany Regional Prison.

Eighty Shark Bay mice and 58 Greater Stick-nest rats were translocated to the island as part of the State Government’s Return to 1616 project.

Staff and prisoners at Albany Regional Prison built 66 custom-made boxes for the operation to keep the Greater Stick-nest rats safe as they travelled to their new home via Utes, boats and helicopters.

This exercise allowed for some of the inmates to count towards their traineeship and Certificate II in furniture-making.

Colleen Sims and first GSNR release on DHI. (DBCA.)

Pushed to the brink

Both Shark Bay mice and Greater Stick-nest rats were once original fauna of Dirk Hartog Island.

Greater Stick-nest rats were previously widespread across southern and western parts of Australia but have since gone extinct on Australia’s mainland.

The Shark Bay mouse was once widespread across the southern and western parts of Australia, but now populations only remain on islands off the mid-west and north-west coast.

The mice were translocated from Northwest Island.

Prior to their release, some mice were fitted with radio transmitters for ongoing monitoring by DBCA scientists.

SBM release 2021. (DBCA.)

Bringing them home

 Program leader Lesley Gibson said the animals were showing good signs of movement on the island.

“We selected a small number of animals and put radio collars on them to follow their movements once they were released,” she said.

“Whilst we’ve had a few of the mice taken by snakes, we believe, most of the animals that were radio collared have survived and our early monitoring that we’ve been doing since the release has indicated that the animals are moving around well.

“They’re using some artificial refuges that we put there on the island that mimic their natural nests and they’re using them- so that’s a good sign.”

“They’re using some artificial refuges that we put there on the island that mimic their natural nests and they’re using them- so that’s a good sign.”

Ms Gibson said the help of the staff and prisoners at Albany Regional Prison were very helpful in the relocation of the animals.

“Those boxes were used to transport that species [Greater Stick-nest rat] across to the island and they needed to have specially built boxes,” she said.

“They [staff and prisoners] played a critical role in being able to successfully transport them.”

Loading chopper Salutation. (DBCA.)

Efforts to save the species

They are the fifth and sixth mammal species to be moved onto the island for ecological restoration efforts by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA).

Since commencing the wildlife reconstruction stage of Return to 1616, the project has seen the translocation of rufous hare-wallabies, banded hare-wallabies, Shark Bay bandicoots and dibblers.

Australian Wildlife Conservancy senior science communicator Joey Clarke said the Dirk Hartog translocation was a fantastic project and the AWC was pleased to see rewilding projects like this happening around Australia.

“We’ve got this amazing diversity of native rats and mice and usually the marsupials steal the lime-light, so we don’t hear a lot about Greater Stick-nest rats just because they’re called rats,” he said.

“But they’re actually amazing animals.”

“But they’re actually amazing animals.”

Mr Clarke said feral predators was a large contributing factor to the decline of Australia’s small and medium sized mammals and rodents.

“For context around the native rodent species, we’ve actually lost 14 species to extinction since European colonisation and then even today, about up to 30 per cent of our native rodents are threatened with extinction,” he said.

“Cats and foxes have wiped them out almost entirely across the mainland and to restore populations of native rodents, really in the short term the only solution is to have a network of safe havens.”

“Cats and foxes have wiped them out almost entirely across the mainland and to restore populations of native rodents, really in the short term the only solution is to have a network of safe havens.

“They can either be feral predator-free islands or fenced areas on the mainland.”

The AWC have on-going projects to protect the Shark Bay mouse through management of a population on Faure Island, with translocations also being carried out to Doole Island and Northwest Island (Montebello Islands).

“We’ve got them at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in the Wheatbelt and just in the last year we released them into a national park in NSW.

“Both are feral predator free havens,” Mr Clarke said.

Albany Regional Prison prisoners making the boxes. (Supplied by Charlie Tuck.)

A helping hand from the prison

Albany Regional Prison Super Intendent Charlie Tuck said being involved with DBCA to make the relocation boxes for the Greater Stick-nest rats was a very positive outcome.

“It was a really great project to be involved in,” he said.

“It helped get some of the prisoners traineeships to achieve a Cert II in furniture making.

“Everyone that was involved, they were all very happy to be involved where they’re making important contributions and returning something back to the community.”

Greater Stick-nest Rat. (Brad Leue, AWC.)

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