They may be small but the mulgara is mighty.
The tiny carnivorous marsupial, which is related to the Tasmanian devil, was declared extinct in NSW more than a century ago.
But thanks to local scientists, the mysterious crest-tailed mulgara has been reintroduced to the state and will make Sturt National Park its new home.
The team behind the initiative, which is led by UNSW’s Wild Deserts project, is hoping to establish a self-sustaining population in the depths of the state’s northwest away from the prying eyes of cats, rabbits and foxes.
Two exclosures spanning across 2000 hectares each have been established at the park.
Nineteen mulgaras will be rehomed in the southern exclosure Mingku, which means “happy” in Maljangapa language.
While tiny, shy animals, mulgaras are described as “ferocious predators” and share similarities with their Tasmanian devil cousins.
They feast on reptiles, insects and other small mammals.
Wild Deserts leader, UNSW professor Richard Kingsford, said the population of crest-tailed mulgara was restricted to a relatively small area, mainly within the Strzelecki and Simpson deserts in South Australia.
He said the species was once widely distributed across sandy desert environments in inland Australia, but introduced pests, including rabbits, cats and foxes, have contributed to their decline.
In 2017 scientists made the shock discovery of a solitary mulgara living within the Wild Deserts site. Before this the animal was presumed extinct in NSW for more than 100 years.
“They are still listed as extinct in NSW under the Biodiversity Conservation Act,” Prof Kingsford said.
Academics decided to reintroduce the species after they had no luck finding evidence of a population in the area.
Recent rainfall has helped boost vegetation in the park, meaning there are now more small mammals and insects for the mulgara to prey on.
“The rain has been fabulous, really kickstarting the ecosystem after prolonged drought and creating ideal conditions for these reintroductions,” Dr Reece Pedler, co-ordinator of the Wild Deserts project, said.
“We currently know little about crest-tailed mulgara biology and breeding in the wild, so the project will contribute to both species knowledge and recovery.”
As a micro-predator, the mulgara plays a critical ecological role.
The mulgara release is the first of seven mammal species to be reintroduced to the Wild Deserts site as part of the NSW Government’s wider Saving our Species program.
Future species releases will include greater bilby, burrowing bettong, western quoll and western barred bandicoot.