Cassandra Fernando MP, Federal Member for Holt, will lead a ceremony at Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park on 19 July to mark the opening of the new Small Mammal Conservation Breeding Centre (SMCBC).
The centre will play a vital role in sustaining population numbers for critically endangered native small mammal species beginning with breeding the pookila, which once was found in the local area.
Derived from the Ngarigo word for ‘mouse’ – bugila – pookila (pronounced: POO-kee-lah) was adopted by the Federal Government in 1995 as the Indigenous name for the species also known as the New Holland Mouse.
The population decline is due to habitat loss including from drought, feral predators, competition from non-native rodent species, loss of genetic diversity and the effects of the catastrophic bush fires of 2019-20.
As they were formerly found on the Mornington Peninsula and Moonlit Sanctuary has successfully maintained Pookila in the past, the Sanctuary stepped up and successfully applied for emergency funds from the Wildlife Conservation Fund of the Zoo and Aquarium Association when the species was identified as being particularly at risk of extinction.
The funds were to build a facility to establish and maintain a sustainable captive population of the Pookila, or New Holland Mouse, as insurance against extinction with the eventual goal of releasing the offspring to the wild.
As a further response to the bushfires, Moonlit Sanctuary was invited to apply for a Federal Government grant to expand the facilities proposed for the Pookila and other threatened species. This grant came from the Australian Government under the Environment Restoration Fund for Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation.
Image credit: Zoos Vic
Genetically diverse breeding pairs have been matched and will be housed at the new SMCBC at Moonlit Sanctuary and also at Melbourne Zoo with the eventual goal of releasing the offspring to the wild. The Sanctuary is part of the Pookila Captive Breeding Program and Reintroduction Program, collaborating with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Gippsland Water Parks Victoria, Zoo and Aquarium Association, Zoos Victoria and members of the national Pookila Recovery Team.
“This new facility will help Moonlit safeguard the Pookila against extinction, while also allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of how the species breeds and responds to a changing environment,” said Michael Johnson, Director and Founder of Moonlit Sanctuary.
“The Small Mammals Conservation Breeding Centre will further Moonlit Sanctuary as a conservation hub for native species with programs already in place for the orange-bellied parrot, spot-tailed quoll, and regent honeyeater,” continued Mr Johnson.
Going forward, in addition to the Pookila, the Small Mammals Conservation Breeding Centre is well equipped to work with a range of small native mammals.
We know that survival is tough for many Australian animals and plants given that some 2000 species are threatened with extinction, and that climate change ranks as an important factor.