Bridging the gap for threatened species

By South West Catchments Council

A project to help save the western ringtail possum is underway in Busselton, Western Australia.

The threatened species (Pseudocheirus occidentalis) need help, so the South West Catchments Council (SWCC), in collaboration with the Water Corporation, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), the RAC Busselton Holiday Park and the University of Western Australia (UWA), with support from Main Roads and the City of Busselton, have partnered in a possum bridge project in Abbey.

Bridge project partners Suzanne Brown and Clive Piggott (Water Corporation), Steve Moll (RAC Busselton Holiday Park), Kim Williams (DBCA), Jason Mackay and Jess Moloney-Christie (Water Corporation), Jenelle Schult (SWCC), Darren Luscombe
(RAC Busselton Holiday Park).

Dr Roberta Bencini from UWA explained some alarming information. “A population viability analysis conducted on female possums of a population living near Caves Road, Busselton, shows that the probability of the population going extinct in the next 20 years is alarmingly high at about 92 per cent,” he said.

UWA researchers identified fox predation and road mortality as the key drivers of possible extinction in this local Caves Road sub-population. Elsewhere in Busselton, vegetation loss remains the greatest threat to the survival of the western ringtail possum.

“Dispersing to and from these remnant patches of vegetation increases exposure to cat, dog and fox predation,” said Dr Bencini.

“Habitat patches within the urban areas are surrounded by roads, which cause habitat loss, road kills and facilitate feral predator movement.”

To assist in the genetic flow between the Caves Road sub-population of the western ringtail possum, SWCC and its project partners are working together to build a possum bridge.  The bridge is due to be completed in May 2018.

Jenelle Schult, the biodiversity project manager at SWCC, said the possum bridge would allow the safe passage of the western ringtail possum over the Buayanyup River, between the Locke Nature Reserve and the RAC Busselton Holiday Park.

“This is a highly collaborative project,” Jenelle said. “The Water Corporation is co-funding the installation of the bridge; UWA will supply and install camera’s and will monitor the possum’s use of the bridge; and DBCA will continue fox baiting in the Locke Nature Reserve.

“The RAC Busselton Holiday Park will undertake revegetation to increase possum habitat and continue to raise awareness with the Park’s visitors of how lucky we are to have this critically endangered species in our backyards,” Jenelle explained.

SWCC and its project partners look forward to officially launching the opening of the bridge in June 2018.

Water Corporation South West Regional Manager, John Janssen, said his team was proud to be involved in such a worthwhile partnership which contributed to the local environment.

This project is supported by the South West Catchments Council, through funding from the Water Corporation and the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. For more information, contact Jenelle Schult on 08 9781 3118.

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