In may 2011 life brought me to Australian outback in semi-arid western NSW, and I stayed there for over a year. Most of this time I spent at Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s (AWC) Scotia Sanctuary, first as a volunteer and then as an intern. I always wanted to spend some time in the desert to learn about the life of its uniquely adapted inhabitants. Semi-arid western NSW is as close as you can get to a proper Australian desert without having to withstand summer temperatures of over 50 degrees Centigrade. It has it all: the iconic rich orange sand, endless blue sky and patchy splashes of green bushes. The suit of species found there is quite similar to what you’d find in more arid environments. A number of burrowing mammals: Bilby (Macrotis lagotis), Boodie or Burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur) and Numbats (Myrmecobius fasciatus), though these only survive inside the Australia’s largest feral-proof fence surrounding 8000 acres of mallee country at Scotia.
Some ‘diggers’ however survive quite well outside the fence. Among them are the Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) – one of Australia’s two species of monotremes, Sand goanna and a number of smaller lizards. There is even a burrowing frogs – Sudell’s frog, that spends most of the year underground, and comes out to the surface only after heavy rainfall. The summers in these environments get pretty hot and night temperatures in winter often plunge below 0 degrees. But in the underground burrows the temperature stays fairly constant, supposedly around 13 degrees. Burrows also provide a refuge for avoiding predation and a safe place to raise the kids.
Smaller mammals also like the safety of the burrows. Common dunnart (Sminthopsis murina), Southern or Mallee ningaui (Ningaui yvonneae) and the threatened Bolam’s mouse (Pseudomys bolami) all establish underground real estate. But while underground apartments are very popular, not all species have adapted to a digging lifestyle. Brush-tailed bettongs or Woylie (Bettongia penicillata) construct tunnel-shaped nests out of tussock grass, while Bridled Nailtail wallabies (Onychogalea fraenata) simply sit under a bush during the day. There is also a small captive population of Rufus hare wallabies (Lagorchestes hirsutus) at the sanctuary. These species do not dig burrows and are happy to hide out in dense undergrowth during the heat of the day.
Of the bigger players in the Western NSW there are the magnificent Red kangaroo (Macropus rufus), a few Western grey kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus) and an occasional Euro (Macropus robustus).
The less-obvious mammals of Western NSW are off course the bats. At Scotia on one trapping night in a single location we trapped three species: Lesser long-eared bat (Nyctophilus geoffroyi), Little pied bat (Chalinolobus picatus) and an Inland freetail bat (Mormopterus species 3).
There are off course some undesirable mammals in the region as well – the ferals. As usual, people decided to play God and messed everything up in the process. Now there are wild Foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Cats (Felis Catus), Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus)and Goats (Capra aegagrus hircus), to name a few, all over NSW and much of the rest of the country. These species cause significant damage to Australian ecosystems. Predators are thought to have decimated endemic wildlife while herbivores put such pressure on native vegetation that the entire countryside has been changed.