By Harrison Talarico

Kowaris have arrived at Arid Recovery! The recent trip to trap and relocate kowaris to Arid Recovery Reserve was a resounding success.

In August, twelve kowaris (Dasyuroides byrnei) were released at the Arid Recovery Reserve in a world first. Kowaris are small carnivorous marsupials that are closely related to quolls and Tasmanian devils. They were once found across arid South Australia, but are now only present in a small pocket in the far northeast of the state. Kowaris have a 20% chance of becoming extinct in the next 20 years.  The aim of the release is to ensure this elusive and declining species can be safeguarded into the future.

Kowari extant range
Source: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019

Preparing for the kowaris was no mean feat. In the months leading to their arrival, the Arid Recovery team assembled equipment, reinforced the fence, and attained the necessary permits. Although preparation took quite a while, before we knew it, the time had come to travel up the Birdsville Track to trap kowaris from one of their few remaining populations in South Australia.

The kowari team, Harrison Talarico, Robert Dugand, Dr Genevieve Hayes, Dr Katherine Moesby and Nathan Manders.

Five members of the Arid Recovery team left at sunrise on Monday 8th August, and travelled eight hours northward to a location on a pastoral lease within the Sturt Stony Desert.  The landscape was expansive and covered by gibber, with small sand hills dotted throughout— perfect kowari country. We spent the following day excitedly setting traps, buoyed by the prospect of catching kowaris the next morning.

An Elliott trap set up near a kowari’s home. Photo: Katherine Moesby

It didn’t take long for our hopes to be realised. The first morning we caught enough kowaris to meet a threshold for sustainably removing kowaris without impacting their wild population. On the next morning we were able to secure our quota for a sustainable harvest – 12 kowaris, 8 females and 4 males, with 7 of the females carrying small pouch young.  An incredible outcome! The captured kowaris were then transported to a nearby airstrip to be flown to Arid Recovery.

Ecologist, Genevieve watching over our newest residents as they are loaded in the car for transport to the air strip. Photo: Katherine Moseby

Once the kowaris had boarded the flight, a sense of gratitude and relief swept over the team. We packed up the traps with liveliness, and were eager to travel back to Arid Recovery the following day to see the kowaris at their new home. Not even six millimetres of rain overnight could dampen our spirit—although it did make for a wet pack up and a slow drive home!

Meanwhile, at the reserve, the remaining Arid Recovery team collected the kowaris from the airport, fitted their radio-collars (for tracking purposes), and released each animal into their respective soft-release pen. The purpose of these pens is to settle the kowaris and reduce the risk of long-distance movement, potentially outside of the fenced reserve. The soft-release pens also give the females an opportunity to den their babies, allowing us to then monitor them all closely and give them the best chance of survival.

Soft release pens the kowaris were initially released into. Photo: Ines Badman

The soft-release pens are being opened in stages to allow these first-generation kowaris freedom to roam the reserve. We can’t wait to learn more about this feisty and charismatic species and watch them thrive in a landscape free of exotic predators and land disturbance.

An enormous amount of work goes into pulling off a translocation, and it could not have been done without support from our many partners. Our travel out to the remote stretch of the Birdsville Track was supported by Cleanaway and Olympic Dam Transport who donated a fuel pod that was essential for the journey. The major works were done under the Australian Government’s Environment Restoration Fund – Safe Havens program which helped cover the costs of preparing the reserve for kowaris and of the translocation itself. We also have a great set of partners, including Kokatha Aboriginal Corporation, SA Arid Lands Landscape Board, SA Department  for Environment and Water, Waratah Fencing, BHP and Bush Heritage Australia. In all the preparation, we were helped enormously by a host of wonderful volunteers who put in many hours of effort to make sure the translocation could go ahead.

Can you help us follow the kowaris closely as they settle into their new home? We are seeking donations to purchase more camera traps, batteries and SD cards so we can record how kowaris establish at Arid Recovery, what habitats they use and how well they breed. You can donate by adopting a kowari or making a direct donation. All donations are tax-deductible.

  • $30 will fund SD cards to monitor two kowari dens as the females raise their young (fingers crossed!)
  • $50 will fund batteries to run a camera trap for an entire year, keeping track of where kowaris go on the reserve
  • $500 will fund a camera trap that can monitor kowaris for many years to come and form a cornerstone of our research on this enigmatic species

We appreciate the support, and hope you are as besotted by these spunky animals as we are.

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