Researchers say a tiny and unusual species of wallaby only found in Far North Queensland has managed to survive a devastating bushfire that ripped through its habitat.
Mareeba rock-wallabies are only found in small patches of land west of Cairns.
Earlier this year, fire ripped through one of their significant habitats — the Yourka Reserve near Einasleigh, run by Bush Heritage Australia.
Reserve manager Paul Hales said the area was “basically cardboard” when the fire went through and swept towards Tiger Hill, where the rock-wallabies lived among the granite outcrops.
Mr Hales, neighbours, and the Queensland Rural Fire Service spent 10 days trying to contain the fire and another 12 days to extinguish the blaze completely.
In the weeks and months following the fire, Mr Hales and his wife, Leanne, set up several motion-detection cameras to see if the Mareeba rock-wallaby population had been impacted.
“We spotted four healthy animals in person and images collected from the camera traps since have confirmed more, including joeys and babies in their mothers’ pouches, ” Mr Hales said.
“We were so happy to see them and also to discover they were none the worse for wear.
Fire will help grasses grow
Mr Hales said the reserve struggled with woody thickening, where trees grew close together, suffocating the grasses that many native species ate.
“Those key species like cockatoo grass and kangaroo grass, that’s what we’re trying to restore, and that’s what will help all those ground-dwelling mammals,” he said.
He said while they conducted cool burns each year to manage woody thickening, December’s fire had helped to further thin out trees with daylight reaching the ground for the first time in 25 years.
“This fire will hopefully flick the switch the other way,” he said.
“So those big old hollow-bearing trees like stringybarks and bloodwoods will take over again and be able to provide a habitat for greater gliders and possums.”