Dibbler Breeding for Release Programme

To breed and reintroduce dibblers into their former range in Australia

 

The dibbler (Parantechinus apicalis), a small carnivorous marsupial belonging to the dasyurid family, is one of the rarest mammals in the world. The species was believed to have become extinct in 1904, until the Australian naturalist and author Michael Morcombe rediscovered it in 1967 on the south coast of Western Australia, east of Albany, when trying to trap honey possums as research for a book he was writing.

 

The probable reasons for the disappearance and presumed extinction of the dibbler were loss of habitat and predation by imported exotic carnivores. The dibbler was once found in near coastal areas across the south-west corner of Australia, from Shark Bay around to Albany. Much of the dibbler's range was cleared for farming early in the occupation of Western Australia by European settlers. Most remaining areas, too rugged or with soil too poor for farming, have been swept by bush fires, from which the vegetation gradually recovers, but often not the resident populations of small animals. Foxes, cats, rats and other introduced predators and competitors pose a great threat to small marsupials. However, dibblers are very fast and well hidden, and this may have helped them to survive albeit in very small numbers.

 

In 1996, the species was classified as Endangered by IUCN. Today, natural populations of dibblers can be found only in the south-west of Western Australia (coastal habitats of Fitzgerald River National Park along the south coast) and on Boullanger and Whitlock Islands off the west coast near Jurien Bay about 200 km north of Perth. There are also reintroduced colonies of dibblers on Escape Island and in Peniup Nature Reserve. Dibblers are still an endangered species largely due to a fragmented habitat.

 

Perth Zoo is a member of the Dibbler Recovery Team led by the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC). As part of its Native Species Breeding Programme, the zoo breeds dibblers for release into suitable protected habitat where exotic predators can be controlled and studies their reproductive biology, behaviour, etc.

 

Perth Zoo achieved the first successful ex situ breeding of the dibbler in 1997, using wild-caught animals from Boullanger and Whitlock Islands.  Twenty-six of these were released on Escape Island in 1998. This was considered to be quite a secure site, free from introduced predators and house mice, and, due to its relative inaccessibility, also free from other risks (fire, pets) associated with high visitation  by people. A further 62 animals bred at Perth Zoo were released between 1999 and 2001. An indication of the success of the translocation, at least in the short-term, was the capture of 72 individuals in October 2000. Of these, 18 were translocated animals (four from 1998, 11 from 1999 and three from 2000) and 40 were born on the island (14 adults born in 1999 and 26 juveniles). All appeared to be in good or very good condition.

 

In October 2001, a reintroduction programme was initiated at Peniup Nature Reserve. A total of 235 dibblers bred at Perth Zoo have been released at this location over the past 10 years. Results from post-release monitoring by DEC indicate that establishment at this site looks promising.

 

Between 2004 and 2007, 194 dibblers were released in the Stirling Range National Park in an attempt to establish another population, however results at this site have been disappointing and it is unlikely that this population has persisted. In 2010, Waychinicup National Park was chosen as a new dibbler release site. This area is the only release site that has predator exclusion fencing. It is hoped that the reduced predation pressure will help the new population establish more easily.  

 

Since the first release in 1998, 549 Dibblers bred at Perth Zoo have been released into the wild. Thanks to the efforts of the Dibbler Recovery Team, DEC and Perth Zoo's breeding programme, one self-sustaining population has been established on Escape Island near Jurien Bay and early results look promising for the Peniup Nature Reserve population.

 

WAZA Conservation Project 05030 is implemented by Perth Zoo, in partnership with the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation and the University of Western Australia.

 

Visit www.perthzoo.wa.gov.au.

 

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