A rare scaly-tailed possum has been caught in the Northern Territory for the first time in what scientists say is a sign that private land conservation is having a positive effect.
The scaly-tailed possum, also known as the Wyulda, is a rock-dwelling marsupial with stout limbs and a “grippy” tail it uses to hang from branches and rock ledges to reach for seeds, fruits and flowers.
Ecologists from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) working on Bullo River Station in the Northern Territory’s Victoria River region captured a possum during animal-trapping surveys in April and May.
Eridani Mulder, the senior ecologist who led the surveys, described scaly-tailed possums as “secretive, adorable weirdos” with an amazing ability to adapt to whatever habitat they live in.
She said the scales on their tails resembled small fingernails.
Before the surveys, the species had only been recorded in Western Australia’s Kimberley region and on low-resolution camera images on the Bullo River property.
Mulder said the find would enable scientists to closely study the species to learn more about its conservation needs.
A small tissue sample was taken from the possum for genetic analysis and the animal was released back on to the property.
Mulder said scientists would conduct genetic analysis of the tissue to look for differences and similarities between the animal found on Bullo River Station and the known populations in the Kimberley.
“There is certain information that we can only get from a live animal,” she said. “That information is critical to informing our conservation and land management programs.”
She said the find was exciting because it was the most easterly record of the species.
Based on camera records she estimated there were at least six other scaly-tailed possums on the station and she hoped more would be found when they return for further trapping surveys.
Bullo River Station has sweeping savanna woodlands dotted with boab trees, tidal river flats and complex rocky ranges.
It is a working cattle station with large areas that its owners are managing for conservation with the AWC.
The Australian Land Conservation Alliance has said there is a need for more investment in private land conservation programs because more than 60% of Australian land is privately held but only 2% of this area is currently managed for nature.
Julian Burt, co-owner of Bullo River Station, said records of endangered and rare species were signs of the value of private land management for preserving important habitat.
“This scaly-tailed possum is yet further evidence that this style of land management partnership is not only possible, but can and does deliver great ecological outcomes,” he said.