On the first day of winter, the keepers in Perth Zoo’s Native Species Breeding Program were up very early to prepare three female Dibblers for their release in to the wild.
The Dibblers were all carrying pouch young, 21 among the three of them! Getting them out into the big wide world was no easy feat. First they were flown to Esperance with staff from the Department of Parks and Wildlife, then their journey continued by boat to Gunton Island for an afternoon release in to the wild.
Now we all probably dream of island life, but Gunton Island is indeed idyllic habitat for Dibblers. The island is free of feral predators, such as cats and foxes, so it is hoped that the released Dibblers will thrive there.
The Dibbler is one of the world’s rarest mammals and was once thought to be extinct until a chance rediscovery in 1967. There are now only four known populations of them around coastal South-West WA, with work underway to increase that number.
Through a partnership with the Department of Parks and Wildlife, the breeding done behind the scenes at Perth Zoo has been vital in the work towards improving the conservation status of Dibblers.
Perth Zoo Keeper, Lesley Shaw, works with Dibblers and thinks they are very interesting little creatures.
“They are a member of the dasyurid family, so if you think of Tasmanian Devils, that gives you an idea of the species,” Lesley said.
“But they are much tinier, only weighing up to 100 grams.”
Perth Zoo is the only Zoo in the world breeding Dibblers! They had the first successful breeding in 1997 and the first release to the wild a year later. Since then, more than 1000 of these endangered carnivorous marsupials have been bred at Perth Zoo and over 880 of them released into the wild.
In addition to the recent Dibbler release, there are seven females with a total of 53 pouch young remaining at Perth Zoo. So there are more wild releases planned for later in the year!
Lesley and the other keepers were kept busy with pouch checks on the females throughout May.
“Dibblers don’t have a normal pouch as you would see in kangaroos and most other marsupials. As they come into oestrous they develop a fold of skin,” she said.
“As the joeys grow, the skin around the edge of that area softens and expands, and the joeys are just hanging onto the teats.”
With some Dibbler females having up to eight young, life for a Dibbler mum can be very challenging!
Melissa Leo, Media and Communication Officer, Perth Zoo