Endangered Species Spotlight - Reptile Encounters

Endangered Species Spotlight

By Catherine Mallia/13 May 2024


Woylie RE5


The brush-tailed bettong, also known as the woylie, is a small marsupial that measures only 28 to 45 cm from the head to the base of its tail, but with hind feet longer than its head!

Woylie Facts

Woylie group in burrow

Same group as other bettongs, potoroos, and rat-kangaroos.

Small marsupials, breed continuously, typically one offspring per pregnancy.

Nocturnal burrower

Eat truffles, tubers, bulbs, and seeds, special bacteria in their gut helps digest fungi.

Can also jump surprising distances with long hind legs!!

What’s Their Role in the Environment?

          • Woylies play a crucial role assoil engineersin their habitat.
          • When digging for food, they engage in bioturbation, turning over topsoil and accelerating nutrient flow, enhancing soil quality and plant health.
          • A single woylie moves approximately six tonnes of soil annually within its territory.
          • They also aid in seed dispersal, including valuable species like the sandalwood tree.
          • Native predators of woylies include the wedge-tailed eagle, contributing to food chains in ecosystems. 
          • Woylies are keystone ecological engineers, essential for maintaining habitat health

What Caused the Massive Decline?

Tragically, one of the two woylie subspecies, Bettongia penicillata penicillata is presumed extinct. The surviving subspecies, Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi, is endangered, existing only in

Woylie RE1

three remaining populations in southwest Western Australia, located at Kingston and Perup in the Upper Warren and Dryandra Woodland.

They’re all declining for several reasons:

          • The European fox: Predation by foxes was substantially reduced during the 1980s due to large-scale culling efforts. However, more recently, it’s believed that predation by feral and outdoor cats has caused a decline. 
          • Habitat loss due to agricultural clearing: A male woylie requires a foraging area of approximately 28 to 43 hectares, with a central territory overlapping only with females, spanning about 4 to 6 hectares., so they need a lot of space to survive. 
          • Killed by humans: As agricultural pests and hunted for the fur trade.
          • Removed from the wild: There have been instances of woylies being kept as exotic pets.
          • Other possible threats: Including disease, stress, and genetic loss due to fragmented populations.

What’s Being Done to Protect Them?

          • Some zoos, like Zoos SA, are involved in captive breeding programs for woylies, with the aim of reintroducing them into the wild.
          • Woylies have benefited from translocation efforts, where populations have been relocated to areas with fewer feral predators.
          • Removing introduced predators is vital. Fox control has been immensely beneficial, as well as educating the public about the importance of keeping their cats indoors.
          • Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) protects reintroduced woylies in predator-free areas: Karakamia (WA), Scotia (NSW), Yookamurra (SA), Mt Gibson (WA) and Newhaven (NT), as well as Mallee Cliffs National Park (NSW).
          • A project is underway to reintroduce woylies to South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula as part of the Marna Banggara project.
          • There is a National Recovery Plan from the Australian Government to help the remaining populations survive. 

Expanding the woylie’s range helps protect them from ecological changes that might impact specific areas.

Sadly, there are no recovery plans for subspecies that are presumed extinct.
Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen to the survivors!

More information on how to help






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