The Numbat is a unique pouchless marsupial with a very distinctive appearance. It is a small animal with a slender body and reddish-brown coat that has prominent white bands, and a long bushy tail. The adult Numbat is about 41 centimetres long (including the tail) and has a narrow, pointed snout and dark stripes across the eyes. Adults weigh approximately 0.5kgs.
When I first looked at a picture of a Numbat, I was (and still) immediately reminded of our most famous, and extinct, carnivorous marsupial – the Thylacine, or the Tasmanian Tiger. But this was no coincidence, in fact, the Numbat is considered one of the closest living relatives of the Tassie Tiger!
Numbats were once widely found across Australia, from the western New South Wales and Victorian borders, through South Australia and southern Northern Territory to the southwest of Western Australia.
By the late 1970s, due to the deliberate release of the European Red Fox in Australia for recreational hunting in the 1800?s, the Numbat population dropped well under 1,000 individuals, concentrated down into two natural populations: one at Dryandra Woodlands, near Narrogin and the other at Perup Nature Reserve, near Manjimup in South Western Australia.
Some re-introduced populations exist in south-west Western Australia as well as at two fenced sanctuaries, Scotia Sanctuary in NSW and Yookamurra Sanctuary in SA (both managed by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy).
Their preferred habitat is woodland, with thick undergrowth and littered with fallen branches. They shelter in hollow logs, trees and burrows and search during daylight hours for food.
In the wild, the Numbat eats an exclusive diet of termites. It uses its sharp claws to dig insects out of logs and sub-soil and uses its long tongue to flick the termites into its mouth. Amazingly, an adult consumes up to 20,000 termites per day, the equivalent of ten per cent of its body weight!
While the Numbat was proclaimed in 1973 the official faunal emblem for my home state of Western Australia, it’s elevated profile has done little to ensure that it will remain a living emblem into the future.
While the breeding programs have been successful in releasing over 60 Numbats back into the wild, those numbers are still far too small to ensure that the population will replenish to acceptable levels.
This is particularly important since the Numbat only lives for approximately 5 years and individuals usually only have around 3 years to breed.
Threats from red foxes, domestic cats and dogs, and land clearing for farmland and housing also continue to threaten the Numbat population in the wild.
Project Numbat Inc. does a lot to help promote and assist the Numbat Recovery Program, including:
- habitat management
- population monitoring
- feral predator control
- education and awareness programs
- fundraising for numbat conservation.
As with all endangered species, I hope that this one will be saved before it’s too late.