Possum rescuers defy govt red tape


Opponents to the Bunbury Outer Ring Road have taken their fight to the Federal Court as land clearing continues through critical possum and bird habitat. Picture credit: Craig Duncan

Wildlife rescuers say they were forced to take matters into their own hands and defy government orders to relocate 22 western ringtail possums away from homes in WA’s South-West.

Native wildlife centre FAWNA president Suzanne Strapp says the centre wanted to place rehabilitated possums onto a wildlife property but were officially instructed to release the animals back to urban areas in Bunbury and Busselton last month.

“The possums are at really high risk of injury or death from human activity in urban areas,” Ms Strapp said.

The non-for-profit volunteer group says it had spent more than two months rehabilitating the 22 western ringtail possums – a critically endangered species – that had been injured after being mauled by dogs, orphaned by road accidents or burnt on hot roofs.

Possums receive third degree burns from man made structures in summer.
Source : Suzanne Strapp
Possums receive third degree burns from man made structures in summer. Picture credit: FAWNA, Suzanne Strapp

Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions’ (DBCA) policy dictates that animals must be released back where they are found. But carers can apply to place the animals elsewhere in situations where the habitat for return is unsuitable.

Ms Strapp says it took DBCA two months to reject her application to release the possums onto a Carbunup land for wildlife property instead of near roads and homes.

The department instead requested genetic testing of the possums already living at the Carbunup property and details of how any newly released animals would be tracked by FAWNA.

The department’s code of practice says that biosecurity and welfare reasons determine release site selection.

Ms Strapp said council and ecologist surveys had showed the Carbunup property was a safe space for the possums.

While the group has been in operation since 1984 and works with DBCA, councils and conversation groups, it does not have the means to test or track possums, she said.

But DCBA rejected the application, stating that: “the FAWNA committee ‘voted to engage in civil disobedience and release the possums without the section 40‘”.

Western ringtail possums weigh just 700g are only found in the south-west of WA. Population estimates vary between 8000 to 20,000.

The department could not respond to questions on this issue by the time this article was published.

Ms Strapp said that the group could not bring themselves to release the rehabilitated possums back into the same areas where they had struggled to survive previously and while they would be at risk of being attacked.

Ms Strapp said the animals would have to cross roads, compete with other urban possums for limited resources and be at risk from dogs, cats and people.

“I was told that’s not a wise thing to do [release the possums], and they [DCBA] advised against it, and we just went ahead and did it,” Ms Strapp said.