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We know the Easter Bunny and the Easter Bilby, but is it time to celebrate the Easter Bandicoot?

University of Tasmania Ph.D. candidate Bridgette Barnden is on an important mission to save the eastern barred bandicoot, a critically endangered marsupial endemic to south-eastern Australia.

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Significant habitat destruction over the last hundred years and predation from introduced species were the leading causes of the bandicoot being declared extinct in the wild across mainland Australia in 2013.

Through careful management, bandicoots in Victoria and South Australia are back from the brink, now considered ‘critically endangered’, but this is a journey that Ms Barnden doesn’t want to see Tasmania’s sub-population of threatened eastern barred bandicoots (Perameles gunnii), go through.

“Although more abundant than their mainland cousins, Tasmania’s bandicoot numbers have been in steep decline,” Ms Barnden said.

“The population is receding into the north and south of the state, and eastern-barred bandicoots have completely disappeared from the Midlands; an area which is actually Australia’s only nationally recognised biodiversity hot spot, but where up to 80 per cent of native vegetation has been transformed into agricultural land.”

“We know clearance and degradation of native vegetation as well as the impacts of feral cats are damaging numbers, but very little is actually known about bandicoot – cat interactions.”

Eastern barred bandicoot on the ground
Eastern-barred bandicoot

As part of her research, Ms Barnden is looking at the influence that cats and the cat-borne parasite, toxoplasma, has on bandicoot populations, undertaking extensive field work in the process.

“I spent 16 weeks through the first year of my PhD trapping bandicoots so I could collect ear biopsies for genetic sampling across the West Tamar where natural resource management organisation NRM North have conducted a large-scale bandicoot-targeted monitoring and revegetation project.

“It’s not easy capturing bandicoots – they’re very elusive little animals.

“In 2023 I’ll be trapping bandicoots every two months in Ulverstone for blood samples so we can see if they are carrying toxoplasma passed on from cats; then we’ll work on understanding what impact that might be having on the bandicoot population.”

Bridgette Barnden with eastern barred bandicoot
University of Tasmania PhD student Bridgette Barnden holds an eastern-barred bandicoot while researching the threatened species in Tasmania's West Tamar region.

Ms Barnden is also investigating behaviours of bandicoots, like how they respond to the presence of cats around where they forage, building up a broader picture of predator threats for the shy critters.

“It really comes down to awareness,” Ms Barnden said.

“The more we know about the needs and challenges of our Tasmanian eastern barred bandicoots, the better we’ll be able to manage habitat fragmentation through targeted restoration and educate the community on ways to support them.

“I think any activity that brings the plight of these tiny, very cute marsupials to the forefront in our community is great – and the ‘Easter Bandicoot’, does have a ring to it!

“But we don’t need a fancy marketing campaign to convince Tasmanians to care for the bandicoot – they’re a great species to have in your backyard,” she said.

“By making a few smart choices in your own garden like including small shrubs they can hide and nest in, and containing your cat, we can have a massive positive impact on building their population back up.”

Releasing an eastern barred bandicoot
Researchers release an eastern-barred bandicoot after collecting an ear biopsies for genetic sampling.

Ms Barnden’s research project is supported by NRM North and Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program and the Ecological Society of Australia. Her Ph.D. is supervised by Professor Menna Jones and Associate Professor Christopher Burridge.

To find out more about studying a research degree at The University of Tasmania, visit utas.edu.au/research/degrees.

This original version of this article was written by Laura Cardona.