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Guardian Dogs as Bandicoot Bodyguards
Maremma Dogs and Eastern Barred Bandicoots may seem like strange bedfellows but their relationship could help bring the bandicoot back from the brink of extinction.
The Federal and Victorian Governments, Zoos Victoria, Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre, Tiverton Property Partners, National Trust of Australia, Mooramong, the Australian Research Council, the University of Tasmania and the Eastern Barred Bandicoot Recovery Team are working together on a five year Guardian Dog Trial for the Eastern Barred Bandicoot.
The Guardian Dog program will trial whether bandicoots, protected by specially trained Maremma Guardian Dogs, will be able to form self-sustaining populations in areas that are not enclosed by feral proof fences.This trial draws on the success of programs such as the Middle Island Maremma Dog Project (Warrnambool) where Maremmas have successfully protected Little Penguins from fox predation.
Maremmas are a breed of guardian dog that originated in Italy and have been used for centuries to successfully guard livestock. They are considered ideal for conservation work because they can bond to an array of animals, defend them from introduced predators and have a low prey-drive.
Once widespread across the basalt plains of South-Western Victoria, Eastern Barred Bandicoots are now extinct in the wild on mainland Australia as a result of habitat loss and predation from introduced predators, such as foxes.
Breeding programs and reserves surrounded by feral-proof fences have been critical to establishing an insurance population of this species. Now, we have an opportunity to bring the Eastern Barred Bandicoot back from the brink of extinction.
Guardian Dog Squad Training
Behind the scenes at Werribee Open Range Zoo, a squad of eight working dogs are in currently in training.
This training takes the form, of gradual introduction to sheep, Eastern Barred Bandicoots and other native species as the pups mature into adults.
Because bandicoots are small, nocturnal and shy, the Maremmas will be bonded with sheep as well as bandicoots. The sheep will provide the dogs with a focus during the daylight hours when bandicoots are sleeping.
The squad is made up of four male and four female dogs from a range of ages with each dog expected to mature at approximately two years of age.
When they have matured and they will be paired together and begin work at trial sites including Tiverton Station, a private reserve in Western Victoria and Mooramong, a National Trust property near Skipton.
Monitoring of introduced predators in these trial sites is underway, with the dogs expected to begin work in these sites in 2017.
If successful, the trial could result in the creation of a Fighting Extinction Dog Squad, a specially trained squad of dogs that protect and help monitor a host of native wildlife.
A number of supporters have helped secure funding for the first two years of the program. A big thanks to:
- The Dyson Bequest
- John Cochrane
- The Scobie and Claire Mackinnon Trust
- Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning
- Threatened Species Commissioner Discretionary Grants
- Australian Research Council