Bandicoot numbers boom in Dunbogan and Camden Haven after 2019 bushfires
Residents in the township of Dunbogan on the NSW Mid North Coast have been noticing an increasing number of small, conical holes appearing in their gardens and lawns.
They are created each night, under the cover of darkness, and those in the know are quick to point out what’s been digging around.
Bandicoots are experiencing a boom in the town and surrounding Camden Haven region, south of Port Macquarie.
Andrew Marshall, with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), lives on a rural property near Dunbogan and sees the small nocturnal marsupials outside his home most evenings.
He said it was the highest number of bandicoots he had seen in decades and the increase came after the region’s severe 2019 bushfires.
“In the past couple of years, it’s been very evident there has been a massive increase in the number of bandicoots … probably three to five-fold on the numbers we were seeing before the fires,” he said.
“The bush has come back after the fires; the undergrowth is really dense and I think the bushfires probably also removed a large number of the local predatory animals,” he said.
“Things like foxes and feral cats, and the fires have potentially also displaced things like dingoes or wild dogs.
“In the coastal strip, where I am, the species that are doing really well include the northern brown bandicoot and we occasionally also see the long-nosed bandicoot.”
Species adapts after hardship
Professor in Ecology at the University of Sydney Chris Dickman said certain bandicoot species typically did well after bushfires.
“It has been observed before, there have been some studies in the Top End and also the Myall Lakes area and in Victoria,” he said.
Professor Dickman said the northern brown bandicoot in particular readily adapted to different environments.
“It does well after fires … it occurs from north of the Hawkesbury all up the east coast and across the top end to the Kimberley,” he said.
“They are quite mobile and very opportunistic.
“After a fire has gone through it opens up the habitat and provides new food sources that animals like bandicoots can access.
“The heavy rains [on the Mid North Coast] after the fires have probably also led to an increase in the complexity and density of the undergrowth and an increase in food sources.
“The bandicoots can move in and do quite well, that is if there aren’t many foxes and cats in the area.”
Professor Dickman said monitoring elsewhere in NSW had shown predators were not bouncing back as quickly after the 2019-20 fires.
“In some areas, like the Blue Mountains, there’s been a lot of monitoring happening after the big fires. Fox and cat activity hasn’t seemed to be as extensive after the fires as we might have expected,” he said.
Professor Dickman said when conditions were right, bandicoots were also prolific breeders.
“They can produce three, four, even five litters a year and have a gestation period of just 12 or 13 days — incredibly short,” he said.
“They give birth to these baked-bean-sized youngsters that attach in the pouch and within a couple of months they are weaned, and the female is free to breed again.”
Learning to live with bandicoots
Professor Dickman said it was encouraging to see some east coast bandicoot species thriving, as other species had not fared so well.
“The east coast bandicoots are doing pretty well in general, including the northern brown bandicoot and common long-nosed bandicoot, and the southern brown bandicoot, which is not doing quite so well, but is still about in reasonable numbers from Sydney and south into Victoria and South Australia,” he said.
“Those species are exceptional because bandicoots, as a group, have done exceptionally poorly over the past couple of hundred years, with many species pushed to extinction.”
While not everyone enjoys having bandicoots in their backyard, Mr Marshall said they did a great job removing pests and turning the soil, helping plants regenerate.
“The bandicoots are digging up other grubs and insects, which would otherwise be damaging my garden,” he said.
“They leave the little conical holes and piles of dirt as a reminder they are there but, at the same time, the ground is pretty healthy.
“I’m happy to have bandicoots in my garden.”