Dibblers get a second chance on Australian island

"This is a significant step forward in growing the number of dibblers in the wild," Western Australia's Environmental Minister Albert Jacob said.

By Brooks Hays
A young dibbler ready for a new home. Photo by Perth Zoo
A young dibbler ready for a new home. Photo by Perth Zoo

PERTH, Australia, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Pushed to the brink of extinction by land clearing and growing populations of feral cats and foxes, a rare marsupial in Western Australia is trying to make a comeback -- with a little help from their human friends.

Recently, 29 dibblers were reintroduced to Gunton Island, a remote spot off the coast of the southern tip of Western Australia, part of the Recherche Archipelago. The small, nocturnal marsupials, which look like a cross between a mouse and a chipmunk, won't face the threat of foxes and cats on the more than 230 wild acres.


The 29 transports include 28 dibblers birthed and weaned by biologists with Perth Zoo's dibbler breeding program. They're joined by one wild caught dibbler.

"This is a significant step forward in growing the number of dibblers in the wild," Albert Jacob, Western Australia's environmental minister, said in a press release. "Gunton Island is free of feral predators and has the right type of habitat to support the species."

"There are five established populations of dibblers elsewhere in Western Australia, of which four consist of less than 50 animals each," Jacob explained. "We are in the early stages of establishing a further two populations and creating another safe haven for this species is vitally important for its long-term survival."


Dibblers were thought to have disappeared in the early parts of the 20th century, presumed enxtinct for nearly 70 years. But isolated populations were later found both on the mainland and coastal islands in the 1960s and 70s.

As it became clear these populations were unlikely to last, conservationists and biologists in Perth began a breeding program. Since 1997, more than 800 dibblers have been successfully introduced to remote islands and wildlife preserves in Western Australia.

Over the next two years, program leaders hope to release another 150 on Gunton Island over the next two years. But it won't be easy. The females are rather picky when it comes to choosing a mate.

"It is a one-off event -- if they do not fall pregnant you do not usually get a second chance," Perth Zoo animal health and research director Peter Mawson told Science Network Western Australia.

Though foxes and cats are not as much of a threat, the dibbler population requires regular monitoring to make sure they're properly adapting to their new environs.

"These days, the most dramatic impact on dibblers is the changing climate which is leading to bushfires becoming more frequent, intense and burning over bigger areas," Mawson said.


Latest Headlines