Wallabies are cat snacks in New South Wales, Australia

Young wallabies have been described as "cat snacks" by scientists in New South Wales. This is because it's what they are to feral cats in that region of Australia. Too many of them are being eaten by feral cats and scientists have come up with what they refer to as "headstarting". It's a strategy which means moving the young wallabies to a fenced off area devoid of cats, where they can develop to become large enough to be able to fend off the advances of feral cats. Scientists from the University of New South Wales conducted a trial and declared it an unqualified success.

Wallabies are cat snacks in New South Wales, Australia
 Wallabies are cat snacks in New South Wales, Australia. Photo: iStock.



"These wallabies are really affected by predators only when they are very small - they're easy snack-sized for a feral cat," said Alexandra Ross from the university.

Bridled nailtail wallabies are vulnerable with only an estimated 500 individuals in the wild in three areas of the east coast of Australia. They apparently relocated the wallabies to the Avocet Nature Refuge, which is south of Emerald in central Queensland.

This happened between 2015-2018 and 89% of them survived to become large enough to be put back into the wild resulting in a more than doubling of the overall population size over that period.

The said that there was minimal disruption to their lives as the enclosure contained their natural habitat. The only difference was that they were protected from predation by feral cats. It is a nine-hector enclosure.

It was important to the researchers to make sure that the wallabies understand that they can still be preyed upon by natural predators other than feral cats such as eagles and pythons. They feel that the small enclosure helps them to learn the dangers of predation.

The process of 'headstarting' is only useful for animals that provide conservationists with a window in their early life when they are vulnerable to predation and which allows the researchers to remove them from the environment in which they are vulnerable.

The process is cheaper as well. Ross estimates that it is up to 90% cheaper than traditional fencing methods because of the smaller size of the enclosure required. Bridled nailtail wallabies were thought to be extinct until 1973 when they were rediscovered by a fencing contractor who stumbled across a colony in Queensland.

My thanks to Brisbane Times of the story. The research is published in Current Biology.

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