Issue 11, September - October 1999

New hope for rare dunnart

Julia Creek dunnart

Photo: Greg Calvert

This little marsupial is the Julia Creek dunnart: one of many Australian small marsupials under threat because of habitat loss and feral invasions.

However, during a recent field trip by students and lecturers at JCU, it was found at Moorinya National Park—300 km away from where all other records have placed it. Its habitat is the black soils of the Mitchell-Flinders grasslands and the find suggests that it may be more widespread than previously thought. All previous captures have been much further west, in a small area around Julia Creek.

“The discovery is important because it reveals a larger range for the species than was previously known,” says Dr Chris Johnson, senior lecturer on the field trip.

“We have trapped in that area for four years without catching any Julia Creek dunnarts.” Moorinya National Park, 100 km south of Hughenden, is the former Shirley cattle station.

“This first specimen turned up after a good wet season with no cattle grazing. This could reflect an increase in numbers as a result of those changed conditions, although of course a single capture can’t possibly prove that,” said Dr Johnson. “However we plan to continue trapping there, so we may ultimately be able to say something about population trends.”

The Julia Creek dunnart, at 50g and 13 cm long is quite a bit larger than other species of dunnarts which generally weigh in at 20 g and are 8 cm in length.

The beauty pictured here is a female, and after a brief stay in Townsville, is now part of the captive breeding program at Fleays Fauna Sanctuary on the Gold Coast. While there are encouraging numbers of Julia Creek dunnarts in captivity, the indications are that in the wild it’s in real trouble.

Dr Chris Johnson
Department of Zoology and Tropical Ecology
& Rainforest CRC, James Cook University
Tel: (07) 47 81 4141 Fax: (07) 47 251570