Unregulated relocation of orphaned, injured
and rehabilitated western ringtail possums

The WA Recovery Plan for the western ringtail possum should be the most important guiding document for any recovery action. This plan includes unregulated releases of ringtails in their list of threatening processes as they can have a wide range of negative outcomes for the animals and ‘they may contravene the regulations of the Wildlife Conservation Act and the WA Animal Welfare Act 2002.’ (WRP Recovery Plan, 2017)
In principle we agree that rehabilitation and release as it is currently mostly practiced can threaten the survival of the species and I therefore also include this in the list of threats.
Ringtail possum care is widely done by people, even children ,without much knowledge about the species, often as a ‘social activity’ or hobby. There is a high risk that released animals are not only unfit for a life in the ‘wild’ but also that they may introduce diseases or other health problems, e.g. antibiotic resistance into wild populations. (Power et al, 2013)

However, criticising laypeople for ‘not correctly recording’ or ‘not relocating to suitable and registered relocation sites’ and ‘ not monitoring for post-release survival’ is highly hypocritical and grossly unfair.
Injured and orphaned ringtails are dumped onto laypeople who are not supported, guided, resourced or monitored in any way by the very department that then conveniently singles them out as scapegoats and a ‘threatening process’. With adequate on-going training opportunities, support, guidelines and a clear set of requirements and monitoring of the work and its outcomes, truly committed people could play a vital role and provide conservation benefits for the species instead of posing a threat to its survival.

This current unregulated release situation is therefore mainly due to departmental failure.

It is also questionable whether departmental relocation sites proved any better as official translocations under a translocation proposal have mostly failed. (see: 'Translocation history')
Only radio-collared releases can be proven to have failed, while non-monitored carer releases usually provide no evidence of success or failure.
However, as “monitoring of translocations to date has been opportunistic (i.e. as funds permitted) and has lacked a strategic approach whereby the suit of factors potentially limiting translocation success can be objectively assessed” (De Tores, 2005), the fate of departmentally translocated possums has often been  as unknown as that of the ringtails released by rehabilitators/carers or the general public.

Also, most ringtail research to date has been underfunded and understaffed. Small sample sizes could not be interpreted with confidence and a lack of scientific controls could have resulted in complications through bias and confounding effects.

Research projects were either ‘student based’ and therefore had to focus on showing the student’s ability to work scientifically instead of providing true conservation benefit for the species, ‘destruction driven', as research money would be obtained as a consequence of habitat destruction, or abandoned midway when funds ran out.

In addition, ringtails with radio-collars that failed prematurely during research – which seems to have been a widespread problem – are occasionally left to die with them. Nobody even seems to know how high the number of animals with (dead) radio-collars is. The issue was raised with the Animal Ethics Committee in Feb 2014 to ensure that action be taken to find out, as this was a frequent issue that occurred when the technology failed and the researcher could not find the animals to remove the collar. (A. Page personal correspondence)
It is very time and labour intensive to retrieve the animals to remove the collars. This effort is obviously justified in the course of a project for the sake of the scientific research but not at the end to improve the survival chances of the animals. Whether any action was taken is unknown as no results or insights were ever provided. This failure to ensure basic wildlife welfare is not the failure of the students! It could however ‘contravene the regulations of the Wildlife Conservation Act and the WA Animal Welfare Act 2002.’

Remarks that there is very little evidence that a radio-collar could have caused or contributed to the death of an animal (Clarke, 2011) seem mere wishful thinking as at that time researching the possible detrimental effects of a radio collar on survival chances was outside the scope of the project. 
The way the research was conducted, there  was neither any evidence against nor for detrimental impacts as the project set-up was not conducive to it.
However, during another study in a peri–urban area a couple of animals were found dead by the general public with (at times distorted) radio-collars around their necks. The researcher included an (unplanned) investigation into her research and found clear evidence for a correlation between radio-collars and mortality. (also see: 'Ethics?') 

The human population in many of its facets is definitely the biggest threat to the survival of the western ringtail possum and many other species.
However, if we want to single out one group, politicians with their focus on the economy, short-term thinking (only up to the next election), wilfulness and reluctance to engage in necessary but unpopular (potentially vote costing) initiatives are a far more deserving target group than at times misguided members of the public who want to save individual animals.

pseudo mitigation