Barna Mia, Dryandra Forest, Western Australia
Barna Mia is located in the heart of the Dryandra Woodland. The wildlife sanctuary is 180 kilometres south-east of Perth and 29 kilometres north-west of Narrogin. The open woodland of Dryandra supports a number of marsupial species including kangaroos, wallabies, possums, numbats and echidnas.
Barna Mia provides shelter for a number of endangered marsupials. Guided, nocturnal walks are held throughout the year, enabling visitors an up close and personal view of some of Australia's rarest animals.
All tours begin after sunset and infra-red lights are issued to visitors so they watch the interaction of the marsupials when they come to the feeding stations. The starting times of the tours vary according to the season.
The fully enclosed sanctuary gives the animals protection from most of their predators, although they still need to be wary of eagles.
The bilby, banded hare-wallaby, rufous hare-wallaby, western barred bandicoot and the borrowing bettong are all represented in the compound.
The bilby (Macrotis lagotis) has been adopted as a mascot by the Commonwealth of Australia Endangered Species Program and now represents all endangered Australian species.
Bilbys are closely related to bandicoots. There is now only one species – the Greater bilby which is a protected species. Apart from Barna Mia and a reintroduced population on Peron Peninsula north of Perth, the bilby is now found only on the outskirts of arid regions. They are sometimes known as rabbit-eared bandicoots, pinkies or dalygtes.
Bilbies are around 55cm long and weigh 2.5kg. The tail adds another 29cm or so. They are marsupials but, because they dig for food and to create burrows, their pouch faces to the rear. The fur is beautifully soft and silky and a pale blue-grey. The underparts are much paler. The tail is blue-grey near the body darkening to black and the last third is white. The tip of the tail has no fur but this is usually hidden from sight.
Bilbies have excellent hearing and scent but poor eyesight. They are omnivorous, eating a variety of insects and vegetable matter. If conditions are good, they will have up to four litters a year. The gestation period is only 14 days, one of the shortest gestations of any mammal.
Bettongia lesueur is the scientific name for the boodie or burrowing bettong. The several species of bettong are sometimes referred to as rat-kangaroos. Once the most common macropod on the continent, the boodie is now restricted to three islands and a very few reintroduced colonies on the Western Australian coast.
A group of bettongs will live in a series of interconnecting burrows which may have several or many entrances. Bettongs are nocturnal and forage alone. The average weight is 1320 grams and the length around 300mm plus another 240mm for the tail. The bettong hops like a kangaroo but can also walk bipedally such as when feeding. It can carry nesting material such as grass and vegetation in its tail.
The fur is thick and dense. The dark golden colour is very attractive and the under surfaces are lighter. The tail is almost black towards the end but with a distinctive white tip. The bettong may dig up fungi and tubers to eat. They also consume carrion, termites, fruits, blossoms and scraps from around camp sites or mining camps. Most of their water requirements are obtained from their food. The bettong can practise embryonic diapause, delaying the development of an embryo until the previous joey has vacated the pouch.
The banded hare wallaby (Lagostrophus fasciatus) is another very rare marsupial. It was extinct on the mainland. Apart from the few at Barna Mia, there are colonies on Bernier and Dorre Islands off the coast of Western Australia. The banded hare wallaby weighs about 1.7kg and has a total length of about 800mm. They have short noses and long, grey, speckled fur except on the face and head which is a solid grey. The under surfaces are light grey. There are dark horizontal stripes which start at the middle of the back and run to the base of the tail. These little creatures are herbivores and get most of their water needs from their food. Like the burrowing bettong, the females are capable of embryonic diapause.
In the wild, the rufous hare wallaby (Lagorchestes hirsutus) is now found only on Bernier and Dorre Islands. It is the smallest of the hare-wallabies. The rufous hare wallaby is a herbivore and lives a solitary life apart from the mating season. It is nocturnal. Unusually for macropods the females are heavier and larger than the males. Weights range form 800 to 2000 grams, the body length is around 350mm and the tail 270mm. The fur is long. The head is dark grey and the body rusty grey. The tail is tan with a grey tip. Under surfaces are paler. There are may be some white on the upper lip and ears.
The rufous hare wallaby will only breed if there has been enough rain to ensure sufficient food. Embryonic diapause allows the female to hold a fertilised egg in suspension until conditions are favourable for raising a young one.
The western barred bandicoot (Perameles bougainville) is endangered and has a declining population. It is naturally present only on Barrow, Bernier and Dorre Islands. Its common name is the marl. Western barred bandicoots are generally solitary and build a nest of grass under a low shrub. They weigh about 240 grams and have a total length of about 280mm with the tail accounting for almost 1/3 of this length. They have a pointed, tapering snout and large ears. The fur is brown fading almost to white on the belly. There are two or three indistinct alternating dark and creamy bars across the rump and darker fur on the face. If there is a tail it is short. Some bandicoots lose their tails when they fight with others, which they do so regularly and with great vigour.
Western barred bandicoots are nocturnal and omnivorous eating beetles and crickets and some plant material. The pouch of this little marsupial faces backwards so that it doesn't get full of dirt when the animal digs. Two or three young are carried in the pouch until they are furred. As they get older, the mother will leave them in the nest at night while she goes out to feed.
Barna Mia offers the general public a chance to see marsupials which are not easily seen otherwise.