Western Ringtail Possums Graduate Finishing School

A class of twenty rehabilitated western ringtail possums have been released at a property in Gracetown following a term spent at the Possum Finishing School, preparing them for life in the wild.

South West Catchments Council are working with Fostering and Assistance for Wildlife Needing Aid (FAWNA), the University of Western Australia and the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation to determine survival rates of rehabilitated pouch young after release into the wild and investigate which factors improve their survival. Upon release, this critically endangered species faces threats from foxes, cats and native south-west carpet pythons.

The five-year project is testing whether food sources, water availability, rearing techniques and personality types affect the released animals’ survival rates. The most recent class of possums is the third of six to attend the Finishing School throughout the project. This class will test whether the scent from dreys (nests) increases the risk of predators by making the possums easier to find. Half the class were released in clean, new dreys while the other half were released in the dreys they lived in at the Finishing School.

After being hand-reared by carers to a weight of 600 to 700 grams, rescued possums are sent to FAWNA’s Possum Finishing School, where they are all given the same treatment and housed in the same conditions before release. They are fitted with elastic radio monitoring collars and each given a name. After release, they are radio tracked every day for around 12 weeks before a UWA PhD student, Sarah Corsetti, analyses the results.

Survival rates for possums in the first two release groups were low due to feral animal predation, however improvements were seen from the first to second releases as a result of improved feral predator control. This study is the first of its kind for rehabilitated western ringtail possums, so the results were confronting for rehabilitators and others involved who have contributed many hours preparing animals for release. The learnings from each of the releases will continue to inform further improvements in the rehabilitation process.

This project is supported by South West Catchments Council, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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