The Brush-tailed Bettong (Woylie) is a species of Bettong which has been exterminated from almost all its historical range over the last 150 years. Remnant populations have crashed in the last two decades. AWC protects almost 10 per cent of the world’s remaining Brush-tailed Bettong population, with important populations living within feral predator-free areas at our Karakamia (WA), Scotia (NSW), Yookamurra (SA), Mt Gibson (WA) and Newhaven (NT) wildlife sanctuaries.
AWC protects almost 10 per cent of the world’s remaining Brush-tailed Bettong, with important populations protected within feral predator-free areas at Karakamia, Scotia, Yookamurra, Mt Gibson and Newhaven wildlife sanctuaries.
AWC monitors Brush-tailed Bettong populations across these five sanctuaries, contributes to the national Woylie Recovery Team, and facilitates a number of Woylie research projects.
The 2021 reintroduction of the species to Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary was an important milestone. The translocation of 44 Brush-tailed Bettong from Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary took place during AWC’s 30th anniversary celebrations, making history by returning the species to the Northern Territory where they have been locally extinct for over 60 years. A further reintroduction of 54 Brush-tailed Bettongs to Mallee Cliffs National Park in NSW was also successful in 2021.
Predation by European foxes and more recently, feral cats, is the major cause of range contraction and decline of Woylie populations in Australia. In Western Australia, Woylies increased in distribution and abundance following large-scale fox-baiting during the 1980s. However, most populations have declined again in the last 15 years – most likely due to predation by feral cats, although research is also being conducted into the potential role of disease in population decline. In the past, extensive areas occupied by the Brush-tailed Bettong were cleared for agriculture, and millions of Brush-tailed Bettongs and other bettongs were killed as agricultural pests or for the fur trade in the early 20th century.
The Brush-tailed Bettong has greyish-brown fur on the upperparts and flanks and pale grey fur on the underside. The tail is darkly coloured with a distinctive black brush at the end (hence the species’ common and scientific name). Adult males grow to 36 centimetres (head-body) and 1.8 kilograms. Females are slightly smaller than males, and breed continuously throughout the year, giving birth to one young (rarely two) at a time. A single female can produce up to three offspring per year, depending on environmental conditions.
A small nocturnal marsupial, the Brush-tailed Bettong is considered an important ‘ecosystem engineer’ because its digging and foraging helps turn over topsoil, cycling nutrients and improving aeration and water infiltration into the soil.
Brush-tailed Bettongs primarily eat underground fungi (truffles), as well as tubers, bulbs, seeds and other vegetative products, such as resin. Their foraging also disperses plant seeds and fungal spores facilitating plant recruitment.
Range and abundance
At the time of European colonisation, Brush-tailed Bettongs inhabited much of southern Australia, from Western Australia through to the western plains of the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales and southern Queensland. Two sub-species are recognised – the Brush-tailed Bettong (Bettongia penicillata penicillata) in eastern Australia and the Woylie (Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi) in Western Australia. However, the historical geographical relationship of these sub-species is uncertain and their common names are used interchangeably. Bettongia penicillata penicillata is now presumed extinct, while Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi is restricted to three remnant populations in southwest Western Australia – Kingston and Perup in the Upper Warren and Dryandra Woodland.
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