Western Australia's quokkas rebound but face long road to recovery after severe bushfire

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2015 blaze near Northcliffe took local quokka population from 600 to 39, and study shows there are now 272

A quokka is photographed on a camera trap near Northcliffe in Western Australia. Five years after a severe bushfire nearly wiped out the area’s quokka population, research indicates they may not fully recover for more than a decade.
A quokka is photographed on a camera trap near Northcliffe in Western Australia. Five years after a severe bushfire nearly wiped out the area’s quokka population, researchers say they may not fully recover until 2028. Photograph: AAP Image/WWF Australia
A quokka is photographed on a camera trap near Northcliffe in Western Australia. Five years after a severe bushfire nearly wiped out the area’s quokka population, researchers say they may not fully recover until 2028. Photograph: AAP Image/WWF Australia
Australian Associated Press
Sat 12 Dec 2020 23.50 EST

A quokka population nearly wiped out by a severe bushfire in Western Australia may take more than a decade to fully recover, research has shown.

When fire in 2015 charred 98,000 hectares of forest near Northcliffe, a small town in the state’s south-west, the local quokka population was decimated.

Twelve months on from the blaze, scientists estimated there were only 39 of the small wallabies remaining in the area from an original group of about 600.

That number has now reached approximately 272, following efforts by the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attraction to control the area’s fox population.

However, it may take until 2028 for quokkas to return to their pre-fire numbers and distribution within the Northcliffe fire area, according to a study by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia.

“The quokka project has shown just how long it takes for a population to recover after a large bushfire event,” WWF-Australia species consultant Ashleigh Chauvin said.

Chauvin said quokkas faced the same peril as many threatened species, including habitat fragmentation and feral predators, as well as droughts and bushfires.

“One bushfire can wipe out a whole population of any species,” she said.

“We need to retain as much habitat as possible and create linkages between habitat patches so some animals can escape.”

The WWF-Australia quokka project also found that the creatures had in five years moved more than 50km to recolonise some patches of habitat and had by now reoccupied roughly 60% of their territory.