Notification: Parks and Wildlife Service is part of the new Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA).

woylie 
Photo – K Page / DBCA

The woylie Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi is a small kangaroo-like marsupial. They are also known as brush-tailed bettongs because of the distinctive black brush they have at the end of the long tail. Woylies are nocturnal and forage primarily for underground fungi (native truffles). Woylies make many diggings in search of the preferred food, and these diggings help water seep into the ground and move nutrients in the soil. Fungal spore survive being eaten by woylies and dispersed around the forest in woylie scats (droppings). As fungi help plants to grow, woylies play an important role in maintaining the health and re-establishment of native vegetation. Woylie are also known to disperse and store seed, which also affects the recruitment and regeneration of vegetation.

The woylie was once hailed as one of the success stories of wildlife conservation programs. In 1996, as a direct result of a recovery program, the woylie was removed from the Threatened (Specially Protected) Fauna Notice under the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act 1950. However, a dramatic decline in woylie numbers started in 1999 and consequently, the woylie was re-listed in 2008.

The species is listed as fauna that is ‘likely to become extinct’ in the wild (Specially Protected) under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 and has been assigned the threat status raking of Critically Endangered using the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria.  Nationally it is also listed as Endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

woylie distribution map

Where woylies are found

A map of the historical distribution of the woylie, and the locations where the woylie is currently known from, including translocated populations. (DBCA, 2017).   View larger image.

Woylie once occupied most of the Australian mainland south of the tropics including the arid and semi-arid zones of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Victoria. However, they are now only found in two small areas: Upper Warren and Dryandra Woodland. There are also translocated populations at Batalling and inside fenced areas in Mt Gibson, Karakamia and Whiteman Park, and also in New South Wales and South Australia.

Refer to NatureMap for further information regarding the distribution of this species.

Main threats to the woylie

  • Historical habitat clearing for agriculture
  • Ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation
  • Predation by feral cats and foxes
  • Disease and stress

You can read more about the potential causes of the woylie decline on the following information sheet –  pdfWoylie declines: what are the causes?154.43 KB

Recovery plan

Department of Environment and Conservation (2012). National recovery plan for the Woylie (Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi). Perth, Western Australia: Department of Environment and Conservation.

The recovery plan outlines actions that are being implemented to improve the conservation status of the woylie:

  • Verifying the causes of decline;
  • Minimising fox and feral cat predations;
  • Maintaining the health, genetic diversity and viability of wild populations;
  • Maintaining genetic health and population sizes of captive populations;
  • Undertaking translocations, and
  • Educating the community about and involving the community in woylie conservation.

Recovery projects

Data gathered through population monitoring provides valuable information to assess the conservation status of the species. There are currently 42 sites throughout the south-west of WA where woylies are monitored. The majority of these sites are part of the department’s Western Shield animal conservation program. The Program controls foxes and feral cats by baiting and monitors some of WA’s most vulnerable native animals, including the woylie, which benefit from predator control.

In 2006, when it became apparent that declines in numbers were continuing and not isolated to a single location, the intensive Woylie Conservation Research Project began. The project is focused on an area east of Manjimup where the greatest amount of information is available, but the project is also gathering information from other locations. It complements the standard fauna monitoring being undertaken through the Western Shield program. The project aims to determine the underlying factors responsible for the recent woylie decline in the Upper Warren region of south-west WA. It is also identifying management strategies required to reverse these declines. You can read more about the project in the following report – pdfWoylie Conservation and Research Project: Progress Report 2010-1315.46 MB

Woylie demographics are being researched by trapping animals and radio-telemetry has been used to monitor their survival. Food resources, disease and predation have also been the focus of investigations to help identify the possible causes for the woylie decline. Current evidence suggests that woylies have been predated by cats predominantly, but also foxes, and that they may have become more vulnerable to predation by some form of disease. Efforts continue to verify the real causes because knowing for certain is the best way to inform how conservation and management can most effectively save the woylie.

The Perup Sanctuary is a 423 hectare predator-free enclosure in native bushland near Manjimup. It was established in late 2010 as an insurance colony in case the most important woylie populations in the wild became extinct. With a good representation of the genetic diversity of the woylie it is also an excellent source for translocations to help reintroduce the woylie to areas where it is safe to do so. In just the first four years their numbers in the Sanctuary increased from a founding stock of 87 adults to more than 400, plus nearly 300 that have been translocated to three sites to help stimulate their recovery in the wild. More recently, a fenced area has been built at Dryandra Woodland, and woylies are one of the species that will benefit from this predator-free environment.

Key research collaborators with the Department of Parks and Wildlife include Murdoch University, Perth Zoo, Australian Wildlife ConservancyUniversity of Western AustraliaJames Cook University, World Wildlife Fund and Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. A major collaborative project with Warren Catchments Council was completed in 2013, with support from the Federal Caring for Our Country and WA State Natural Resource Management programs. Many university students and other partnerships and collaborations have been involved in the efforts to save the woylie. Many university students, volunteers, and other partnerships and collaborations have been involved in the efforts to save the woylie.

Further Information