Researchers working in the Australian state of New South Wales have rediscovered a small carnivorous marsupial thought to be extinct in the region for over 100 years. The tiny mammal is known as the crest-tailed mulgara, and it is one of the two mulgara species on Earth. It dwells is long burrow networks beneath hot sand dunes, and emerges at night to hunt prey. While the species can be found roaming through the vast deserts of Central Australia, researchers long believed it went extinct in New South Wales more than a century ago.
However, during a recent expedition to Sturt National Park, a group of scientists from the University of New South Wales found a living crest-tailed mulgara. Researchers are not sure how many mulgaras are left in the wild, nor are they sure how far their habitat stretches. That is because for many years, the two known species — the crest-tailed mulgara and the brush-tailed mulgara — were thought to be the same animal. The distinction between them did not become known until 2005, when genetic testing revealed that the crest-tailed has both a crest on its less-bushy tail and eight nipples, as opposed to the brush-tailed mulgara’s six. Even so, both species are the same size, and they each have sandy-blonde fur.
Currently, the crest-tailed mulgara is listed as vulnerable in the Northern Territory and Queensland, endangered in South Australia, and extinct in New South Wales. That status will now need to be revised.
West is currently working with the university to reintroduce locally extinct species to the national park. This recent discovery is exciting for such efforts because, if the mulgara still exists in the region, it means other animals that are thought to be extinct could be alive as well. She hopes that renewed efforts to reduce invasive species will increase biodiversity in the region, and potentially help mulgara populations bounce back.
“The aim of this project is to return mammal species not seen in their natural habitat for over 90 years in Sturt National Park,” said Jaymie Norris, a National Parks and Wildlife Service area manager, according to Science Alert. “Rabbits, cats and foxes will be eradicated from two 20-square-kilometer fenced enclosures in Sturt National Park, before locally extinct mammals are reintroduced. Reintroduced native mammal species will include greater bilby, burrowing bettong, western quoll and western barred bandicoot.”