19 April 2011

Numbat Numbers

Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus), Endangered

Having just spent several months living and working in Australia, Australian species are especially interesting to me right now. Koalas, Kookaburras, and Kangaroos all crossed my path, as did Wallabies, Wattles, and Wombats. What didn't cross my path was a small creature known as a Numbat. This is likely because the Numbat is no longer common in the state of Victoria, where I spent almost all of my time.

Numbats used to live all across the southern regions of Australia. Their population was reduced to two tiny pockets in the state of Western Australia after the introduction of foxes. Since then, it has been reintroduced to a few small conservation areas, but still numbers less than a 1 000 animals in the wild.

The Numbat diet is a little bit monotonous, consisting of nothing but termites. Each individual can eat between 10 000 and 20 000 termites in a day! Unlike many other termite eating animals, however, Numbats are small, and lack claws or any other method to open up termite nests. This means that they have to forage for termites when the termites themselves are out of the nest foraging--that is, during the day--making it one of the very few marsupials active during the day. Being active during the day like this is thought to make them more susceptible to predation.

In the evening, when they aren't foraging, these rare marsupials retire to their burrows, which are very often inside of hollowed out logs. It is thought that an abundance of hollow logs to hide in may have saved the two groups of Numbats that survived in Western Australia, as they provided protected hiding places from predators.

These stripy furry animals are cute, no doubt about it. They're one of Western Australia's State Emblem's, and they've also been chosen as the icon for the Conservation Council of Western Australia. A captive breeding and reintroduction program is underway, and Numbats are bred at Perth Zoo and released each year into managed habitat. Here's a great video about hand-rearing baby Numbats at the zoo.

If you want to help Numbats, you can donate to Perth Zoo's Wildlife Conservation Action.