The woylie has experienced some wild population changes – it was removed from the threatened species list after extensive conservation work through the 70s, 80s and 90s; as it peaked with a population of 250,000 in the early 2000s, but has declined by 90% since.
Its main threats are from introduced predators; feral cats and red foxes in particular. Habitat destruction, disease, increased agricultural grazing land and possibly changed fire regimens put the populations under further stress. There are only eight extant species covering three genera, within the family Potoroidae. The woylie are mostly solitary, and occupy individual home ranges of around 20-40 hectares – an unusually large area for animals of their size. The woylie uses its prehensile curled tail to carry bundles of nesting materials to build their dome-shaped nest under the brush. They previously inhabited more than 60% of the Australian mainland – and now only remain in less than 1% of it. Research is focusing on the direct factors that lead to the drastic 90% decline over the last decade, though the species is still thriving in cat and fox proof sanctuaries.
- Order: Diprotodontia
- Family: Potoroidae
- Population: <5,600
- Trend: decreasing
- Size: 30-38cm
- Weight: 1.1-1.6kg
Endemic to Australia, two subspecies are recognised, Bettongia penicillata penicillata, which occurred in south-eastern Australia, and is now considered extinct, and Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi which currently occurs as natural populations at Dryandra Woodland, and at Tutanning Nature Reserve in southwest Australia.
Habitat and Ecology
The Woylie is now restricted to forests, open woodlands, shrublands with a dense, low understory of tussock grasses or woody scrub. Woylies are mostly solitary and are nocturnal. Their diet consists primarily of the fruiting bodies of underground fungi, supplemented by bulbs, tubers, seeds, insects and resin, probably from Hakea shrubs.