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Brush-Tailed Rock Wallaby

UNTIMELY RIPPED FROM ITS MOTHER’S POUCH Alien abduction is as nothing compared to the complex conservation effort underway to beef up numbers of today’s Endangered All-Star: the Brush-Tailed Rock Wallaby. Considered endangered in Australia and “Near Threatened” by the IUCN, this mid-sized rock climber—which once roamed southeastern Australia in the millions— has gone into a serious decline, reduced to small, fragmented pockets of its former habitat, imperilled by alteration to land, introduced predators (red foxes and cats) and goats that are consuming native shrubs and grasses. In the 19th century, farmers considered them pests and killed hundreds of thousands, drawn by a government bounty program. To make matters worse, the brush-tailed reproduces so slowly that it has been unable to regain ground in recent years. Enter the Adelaide Zoo. Determined to help the brush-tailed back from the brink, the Zoo launched a captive-breeding program in 1996, successfully raising 69 animals to date. Next, with the aid of researchers at the University of Adelaide, the Zoo developed a cross-species fostering technique that involves flying into remote rock wallaby territory, tranquilizing an unsuspecting mum, kidnapping her brush-tailed infant from the pouch and swapping the baby into that of a surrogate yellow-foot rock wallaby. Described recently on “Discovery,” a BBC nature program, the removal of a brush-tailed baby immediately triggers the development of a replacement embryo—held in reserve in the mother’s body—thus speeding up the reproductive process, yielding eight or nine “pouch young” per mother each year, instead of only one. In 2008, the Zoo began reintroducing the captive-bred brush-taileds into the wilds of Grampians National Park, a spectacular habitat of sandstone ridges and rock formations in the state of Victoria, where the species has nearly been extirpated. Seven of the ten released are still alive, and five more of their kind joined them in 2009.
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