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Back to school for possums

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FAWNA Media Release – 15 February 2019

Rehabilitated Western Ringtail Possums will soon enrol for “Finishing School” prior to their release into the wild thanks to a new five-year collaborative research project.

From June 2019, the organisation Fostering and Assistance for Wildlife Needing Aid (FAWNA) will work with the South West Catchments Council (SWCC), Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), the University of Western Australia (UWA) and veterinarians to carefully assess, microchip and register possums in one location prior to their release into bushland.

Every year about 200 western ringtail possums come into care for a variety of reasons. The majority are pouch young that have been orphaned or abandoned as a result of road trauma, dog and cat attacks, habitat loss or disease. The animals are currently kept in rehabilitator’s 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 that the fate of possums raised in care may be monitored beyond the six-month lifespan of radio collars,” she explained.

“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 a total adult population of less than 8,000 individuals.

A new database is also being developed by 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 raised by carers and see what release methods and site characteristics impact their survival.

SWCC threatened species program manager Dr Brian Chambers said the collaborative approach to research would bring researchers and hands-on wildlife teams together, ensuring efficient information sharing and more timely solutions to help stem the decline of the species, and potentially others.

“With 200 animals out of a total estimated population of 8,000 animals in the wild coming into care each year, improving the outcomes of animals released from care has the potential to significantly improve the outlook for the species. This project will ensure that the countless hours devoted to caring for these animals will achieve the best outcomes,” Dr Chambers said.

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 SWCC, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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