In a WA first, drones are being used to monitor western ringtail possums that have been released in the South West after being rehabilitated in a unique ‘finishing school’ environment. South West Catchments Council, together with F.A.W.N.A, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and the University of Western Australia are working to gain insight into the possum’s behavior once they are released into their native habitat after rehabilitation. Approximately 30-50 hand raised western ringtail possums are released into the wild by fauna rehabilitators in the Busselton area each year and this work will help to gain insights into how these animals adjust to life in the wild.
A Matrice210 drone is being used to monitor radio signals from collars fitted to the possums before their release with the data being used to complement ground-based radio tracking being done by UWA PhD student Sara Corsetti. Drones are currently being used on Dirk Hartog Island to track vulnerable radio-collared rufous and banded hare-wallabies; however this is the first time the technology has been used to track western ringtail possums.
The radio tracking system was developed by an Australian company, Wildlife Drones, which has had success monitoring animals using the radio collars and drones. South West Catchments Council’s CEO and Chief Remote Pilot Steve Ewings is looking forward to getting the tracking underway,
“The ability to track multiple animals at the same time could prove to be much more efficient than traditional hand held units where one animal is located at a time. In preliminary trails we saw 20 radio signals appear on the screen at the same time. The potential to concurrently track groups of animals from the air is an exciting step forward for the industry.”
This is just one of the projects South West Catchments Council has been working on for the critically endangered western ringtail possums. Other work such as management of predators like foxes and feral cats has been undertaken, and habitat connectivity structures, such as rope bridges, have been created to link possum habitats. Community engagement and behavior change is also a bit part of the project to protect the western ringtail possums, including a study addressing responsible pet ownership in relation to possums, in particular how domestic dogs and cats impact on the critically endangered animals.
Four other endangered animals, numbats, malleefowl, chuditch and woylies, will also benefit from the five-year project funded by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.