These dogs are protecting a new colony of tiny marsupials that were extinct in the wild.
The dogs are on the front line of efforts to re-establish Eastern Barred Bandicoots on the grassy plains near Skipton.
They are part of a research trial conducted by Zoos Victoria and the University of Tasmania.
Under the trial, 20 Eastern Barred Bandicoots have been released into a specially fenced National Trust of Australia (Victoria) conservation reserve.
They live under the care of the two Maremma dogs, which were trained by Zoos Victoria for this very special role.
The bandicoots are vulnerable to predatory foxes, and share the land with a flock of sheep.’
The Zoos Victoria Guardian Dog Project is modelled on the successful Middle Island Maremma Project.
In that trial, Maremmas were trained to protect penguins from foxes during the breeding season.
This is the first time this method has been used in an open landscape and with marsupials.
Zoos Victoria Guardian Dog Coordinator David Williams said it took four years of work at the Werribee Open Range Zoo to train Maremmas for the job.
“We’ve trained the dogs to leave the bandicoots alone, and instead bonded the dogs to protect a flock of sheep,” Mr Williams said.
“The dogs are not bonded directly to the bandicoots as they are solitary and nocturnal – so they do not flock. However, sheep do flock. In the Skipton reserve, the sheep can eat grass, bandicoots can live in the grassland, and all three species can share the same habitat.”
There are 35 remote wildlife cameras on the reserve.
The dogs are GPS tracked and each bandicoot has a 1.32-gram radio transmitter so researchers can keep tabs on them.
Eastern Barred Bandicoots were once widespread across the grassy woodlands of southwest Victoria.
They became extinct in mainland Australia through extensive habitat degradation and introduced predators.
The Eastern Barred Bandicoot Recovery Team formed in the late 1980s.
A Zoos Victoria captive breeding and insurance program, and releases into safe havens, averted the species' extinction.
But there is much work ahead.
The Guardian Dog project aims to reintroduce populations of the gentle and shy marsupials to the wild in mainland Victoria.
There are plans to extend the project to other western Victorian sites later this year.
- The Eastern Barred Bandicoot Recovery Team has members from:
- Conservation Volunteers Australia
- the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
- Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre
- National Trust of Australia (Victoria)
- Parks Victoria
- Phillip Island Nature Parks
- the University of Melbourne
- Tiverton Property Partnering, and
- Zoos Victoria.
Watch how dogs and sheep are saving bandicoots from extinction
Reviewed 15 April 2021