Are official relocations necessarily of higher quality?

I was forwarded an email in mid-September 2017 that all ringtail possums from carers should be released on DBCA land in 4 to 6 weeks. I was unable to get any further information regarding the location of the conservation estate, whether all animals will be health-checked and what the degree of monitoring will be. However, as nobody seems to have heard anything further, the idea was obviously abandoned and carers were left to release their own charges. I assume no funding could be sourced for even a limited program.  Historically, releases - or at a later stage monitoring – were stopped whenever funding ran out.

SWCC (southwest catchment council) conducted a crowdfunding initiative in Nov/Dec 17 for the benefit of western ringtail possums and some of the money raised was targeted towards transponders to enable the monitoring of released ringtails. Apart from the oddity that government (swcc operates with paid staff and all have government email addresses) would need crowdfunding to fulfil their obligations towards a critically endangered species, I cannot comprehend how transponders would help in monitoring activities. Small transponders  are inexpensive but have a similar read range to micro-chips used for pets, which would not allow monitoring of animals in trees but costs would be prohibitive for those transponders with a read range of up to 10 metres.  While transponders are cheap ($6-7) readers cost between $800 and $1500. The cost of PIT-tagging technology is the main deterrent for the use of the method.
As transponders with a good read range are large, surgical implantation might be necessary which would increase costs again significantly. It is highly unlikely that a department will accept covering high costs for carer releases without expected scientific return while monitoring frequency for official, development related translocations will only be ‘consistent with the offset funding associated with the project’. (Williams and Barton, 2012)

The translocation proposal for the ill-fated transfer of ringtails from the Busselton Hospital area to Perup also proposed success and failure criteria for releases through rehabilitators. This list was however never circulated to the rehabber community. Published in 2012, the proposal covers translocations for the following 3 years which would mean it should not even be relevant past 2015. It is however the latest available translocation proposal.

The success criteria are:
1. Animals are ear tagged and colour marked prior to release
2. They are observed alive one week after release
3. Evidence (scats, dreys, sightings) of ringtails persisting in the locality of the release is present within 3 months of release.

Accordingly the failure criteria are:
1. Released animals are not marked
2. The majority of marked animals are absent or found dead within 2 weeks of release
3. There is no evidence of WRP persisting in the locality 3 months of release.
(Williams and Barton, 2012)

The proposal is unclear in whether animals from rehabilitators will have to be released on sites chosen by the department or if it was possible for carers to choose/apply for a site.

I enquired about ear tagging several times but never received any concrete answer. I was either told it was illegal to mark wildlife outside of research projects or that it should not be a problem to do so.  However the latter response was not accompanied by details for people who have access to tags and are licensed to tag wildlife.

I heard that some dyes and paint markers had been trialled but they all failed as they rubbed off very quickly. I doubt that any colour marker can be found that would be visible on an animal high up in trees at night. Only a highly fluorescent paint could work under these circumstances, however this would probably be predator attracting. As ringtails have a very dark coat, only the chest/tummy area or the white part of the tail would be usable. The paint would have to be non-toxic and be permanent enough to resist grooming/licking.
Colour marking would also have to be different for each animal to allow identification.
Criterion 1 cannot be met by professionals or rehabilitators and would therefore necessarily fail.

Without identification, no proof that an animal is alive is possible unless animals are released into completely vacant territory, which would lead to low density problems (Allee effects).  

Unless animals are radio-collared or you make the worst release mistakes such as release into a fully occupied habitat or a habitat with catastrophic predation pressure, you will not find dead animals. Injured, very weak or dying animals tend to hide and die stoically (personal observations).
However, absence  of animals near their release area could also mean that they have quickly dispersed to areas better suitable for survival - the release could then actually be a success.
Criterion 2 is therefore too ambiguous for any proof of success or failure.

Scats, dreys and sightings of ringtails would again only be meaningful if the habitat had been vacant prior to the releases. Otherwise  the perceived success could be based on a typical false assumption by carers that the observed animal is the released animal not the original occupant after chasing the newcomer off.

As carers usually release low numbers of animal – most likely 2 or 3 at a time – they  would not release them into completely empty habitat. However, if a habitat has a prior population, scats will not provide any evidence whether released animals survived and persisted.  Criterion 3 is therefore only achievable when based on wishful thinking. 

If this translocation proposal was based on releases in the Warren region only, they would be conducted in the very area with the highest population size reduction of all ringtail habitats. Reasons for the decline are not fully understood, let alone ameliorated.
Releasing perceived high numbers of ringtails without a well-funded, large-scale adaptive management project and adequate resourcing to ameliorate the key threats would be in breach of IUCN reintroduction guidelines (IUCN,  2013) that demand threats at a site of former occupancy must be identified and either removed or be considerably reduced before translocations.
It would be a repeat of former mistakes  and go against all scientific requirements.
‘Mass’ releases would therefore be a ‘mass dumping’ of animals of a critically endangered species.

There are ‘carers’ who only want the experience of caring for a cute and fluffy animal and will gladly then hand the animal over to the ‘authorities’ for their ‘expert release’. If no questions are asked there will be no necessity for inconvenient answers.

Without proper funding, there will not be any in-depth veterinary checks. I wonder whether  the lightest weight radio-collars will be used if animal were collared and monitored at all.
Ringtails that are raised on an almost exclusive peppermint diet and that might be barely able to live a wild life will find themselves in a similar situation to those common brushtails in the Pietsch study (Pietsch, 1995)  The highest probability is that the result will be  the same as well – death in days! (also see 'WRP releases by carers') As there is little hope, that results will be published, the animals from the carer community will just vanish – a critically endangered species with no hope of recovery. 

As the translocation proposal states that the rehabilitators will be encouraged to search for evidence of ringtails in the release area, it is obvious that those animals will not be released in the predator-proof fenced nature reserve as this is quarantined and access would therefore be highly restricted. The assumption that someone would travel 150 km to search for their  animals in an unfamiliar forest is puzzling. What a chutzpa!

If rehabilitators/carers keep releasing their animals without any guidance a probably substantial number of animals will likely die in the early stages. However, as a majority of these animals will be released in reach of a habitat (Busselton/Dunsborough/Bunbury area) where they have a chance of feeding themselves adequately, the success rate might still be larger than the success rate for an unfunded departmental program.

earlier monitored releases