BEFORE THEY DISAPPEAR

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Every year an uncounted, undocumented, but considerably high number of western ringtail possums are taken into care by volunteers and hopefully after rehabilitation/hand-rearing released back into their natural environment.
Official, government-led translocation programs have widely failed, however release after a considerable time in care will end in a kind of ‘translocation’ of the animal. There is no way around it.

This is not a report that aims at showing how rehabilitated ringtails should be released. It is a report that tries to tell everybody interested what we have done for a decade – but particularly during the last 5 years - regarding ringtail releases/relocations, our experiences, perceived failures and successes.
Scientific literature which we used as background information is extensive and will also be outlined as part of this report.

Introduction

Ringtail rehabilitation and release work was in the beginning conducted and resourced as a project of the Possum Centre Busselton Inc. which we founded in 2006 (and left in 2016).

A lot of thought and work went into our project and we would like to make all this accessible to everybody interested in western ringtail possums, in conservation issues in general and in release after rehabilitation.

It would be a wonderful outcome if this could lead to discussions and trigger input from other groups and individuals. This is a work in progress not a how-to manual.

Our work had lots of shortcomings; the most debilitating were the lack of manpower and funds. However we share these shortcomings not only with other community groups but also with the departments responsible for our wildlife and the scientists working on increasing the knowledge base for all of us.
We all have to live with what we have and do with it as much as we can.

This is not a thesis or ‘a research project’. Even calling it ‘citizen science’ does not quite fit according to the definition by Ritchie et al, 2016  as they define the term as “members of the public contributing to the collection and/or analysis of information for scientific purposes”. The aim of our work was not to contribute to a science project.
This simply began as an attempt to provide our best possible support for endangered marsupials that had the misfortune of needing human intervention.
The project would however have benefitted greatly from ‘scientific input’. Aspects that need research are plentiful and interest from an Honours or PhD student would still be much appreciated.   

As this is not a scientific project, we were not required to have the bureaucratic framework or to follow a scientific method, if there actually was one for ringtail relocations.

Many official studies have failed to meet certain statistical design criteria such as proper controls and replication. For a community driven project these would be unachievable.

We are driven by the desire to learn about the animals we work with on a volunteer basis and to provide them with better conservation outcomes. Our decisions are mainly based on the wish to do the best possible for the individual. 
We have been ethically and legally far more restricted in what we can do than a scientist, however the almost complete lack of official support and guidance has also meant a chance to  work without much interference.

 

Acknowledgements:

The described work could never have been done with the manpower of just two.  Many people were involved over the years in a small or large way.

We particularly thank
Julia Lang, Michelle Sheridan, Anna Duffy, Jane Hardy, Donna Cain and Karen Northcott for their work with the animals and their input in and help with the release process
Felicity Bradshaw and Richard Lucas (Busselton Vet Hospital) for veterinary support
Cherie Kemp (Land for Wildlife/Off Reserve Conservation Officer) DBCA, previously DEC and DPaW, who provided advice and liaisons
Zoologists Barbara Jones and Greg Harewood for scientific support and many hours of (unpaid) training and survey work with and for me

However, the most important people are those who own our release sites and without whom nothing would have been possible. They generously allowed us and the animals constant access to their properties and agreed to whatever we thought beneficial for the ringtails.

Predator control could only be done by them and in particular the owners of our main release site have spent endless hours trying to keep predator numbers as low as possible, smelled the foxes before any camera could pick them up; they helped with monitoring and gave us unrestricted access to their property without any conditions.

We cannot thank you enough, but we will not disclose your names here in order to safeguard your and our animals’ privacy and to keep our equipment a bit longer (hopefully).

We also thank the late Possum Centre committee for their ongoing support for the project by still supplying necessary equipment after we left the group.

 

Disclaimer

This report is our personal work (design/population estimates Helmut Wicke, articles Uta Wicke).
All mistakes, errors, misinterpretations or failures to reference are completely unintentional but entirely ours.

I do not have access to a wide range of journals and books and I have only referenced those articles I have read. The choice is therefore clearly biased towards one journal I have subscribed.
In some cases, the original researcher/author might therefore not be mentioned as their work was unavailable for cost reasons. If anyone feels that they should be referenced, please send me the article and I will include it.
The referenced articles are also my subjective recommendation for further reading and in-depth information.

The contact page allows for short messages without attachments only. However, my reply will provide an email address.

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