Signs on Kangaroo Island that animals are surviving the aftermath of horrific bushfires are emerging with the help of sensor cameras, water pumps and specialist ecologists.
Sightings of tiny dunnarts using motion-sensing cameras are particularly heartening after fears habitat destruction would decimate the threatened nocturnal marsupials already only numbering between 300 and 500.
Fires burned about 200,000 hectares of land, almost half the island, and especially the protected areas in which dunnarts are found.
South Australia’s chief ecologist at the Department for Environment and Water Dr Dan Rogers said specialist advice from some of the world’s leading experts in the rare species was helping.
“Prof Chris Dickman, he knows more about dunnarts generally than anyone else in the world, he was on the phone to us talking us through the biggest risk during the fire and immediately after,” Dr Rogers said.
“After the fire the dunnarts that survived were being found in relatively high densities in unburnt patches and we thought they would be honey pots for the remaining cats on the island… we tried to reduce the risk from the cats.”
Now, the mouse-like creatures that have a pouch like a kangaroo for their babies and are related to quolls and Tasmanian devils, are looking safer.
“They have got a lot of fight for their size,” Dr Rogers said.
More than 90 per cent of the dunnart’s habitat was burned and the non-governmental organisation Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife is working with landowners and National Parks and Wildlife Service South Australia to monitor the threatened species.
About 50 motion-sensing cameras are set up in 10 of the larger unburnt patches of parkland and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy has built a cat-proof fence around one dunnart population on private land on the west coast of Kangaroo Island.
Early work to use aeration pumps to mimic water movement and improve circulation also appears to have helped save the only platypus habitat on the island in the burned Rocky River region of the Flinders Chase National Park.
“We installed the pumps before two days of rain, a lot of ash went into the pond but the platypus survived that with the pumps providing benefits,” Dr Rogers said.
Dr Rogers said COVID-19 had not disrupted the remote work at this stage but would be continually reassessed as guidelines came into play, with the main issue being people travelling to and from the island.
This story was first published in The Lead.