By John Mebberson
Endangered Long-nosed Bandicoots in the Sydney Harbour National Park at North Head have been thrown a lifeline with a new program aimed at controlling feral rabbits on the peninsula.
In March and April, the Cumberland Livestock Health and Pest Authority coordinated the release of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus, commonly know as the calicivirus, to combat the introduced pest. The virus is a highly contagious disease that kills rabbits within days of infection.
“There are hundreds of rabbits up there,” says Jenny Stokes, a spokeswoman for the National Parks and Wildlife Service. “The bandicoot faces problems because rabbits compete for their habitat and food.”
The virus is released in treated carrots and is further transmitted by mosquitoes and bush flies. The bandicoot is safe from the disease itself.
“The virus is specific to European wild rabbits,” says project leader Steve Parker. “It does not even affect other species within the same genus or family.”
While fewer rabbits will help bandicoots maintain a healthy habitat, the native animal faces other hazards.
“The biggest threat is domestic dogs and cars,” says Jenny.
Cars have killed 10 bandicoots at North Head this year alone, nearly double the number in the same period last year. Three have been run over in the last month.
Manly Council has a draft recovery plan to help rehabilitate the species in Eastern Hill, the residential area next to North Head. The plan includes opportunities to declare Wildlife Protection Areas and the promotion of responsible pet ownership.
A new study is also underway with the University of Sydney. A catch-and-release program has recently been completed and responses to a community survey are hoped to help better understand how cars and pets are threatening the urban bandicoot population.
“Those risks are rated as high, ” says Aleesa Wells, Environmental Planner at Manly Council. “We write letters to residents reminding them that they live in a high biodiversity area and offer tips on how to help.”
The bandicoots involved in the study are micro-chipped and updates on the study’s progress will appear on social media through the ‘Manly’s Bandicoots’ Facebook page.
In the meantime residents are urged to be aware of the bandicoots.
“The strong message we are giving is that people need to drive slowly up there,” says Jenny.