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Numbat  Perth Zoo, Taken on February 6, 2010
Credit: dilettantiquity (flyingblogspot on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Numbat | A numbat at Perth Zoo, 13 July 2013S J Bennett (quollism on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThis week, I read a fascinating NPR article by Sujata Gupta called How To Feed A Numbat: Zoo Cookery Aids Endangered Species. Perth Zoo's Peter Mawson (director of animal health and research) explained how they came up with food for numbats.

It was a 10-year process of trial and error.

To feed a numbat, you have to become one with the numbat.

As stated in Sujata Gupta's article, "If you wanted to feed numbats their native diet, you would need 15,000 to 20,000 live termites per day" for each numbat. Currently, Western Australia's Perth Zoo has 40 numbats. 

Wow, where would anyone find 600,000 to 800,000 live termites every day?

As you might have guessed, powdered cat food mixed with eggs, vitamins, minerals, cellulose powder, fish oil and crushed termite mound is a gourmet meal for a numbat.

But prior to concocting the perfect numbat meal, Mawson found out how critical some ingredients were, such as cellulose powder. He reasoned that because numbats eat termites, they must also eat all those tree fibers in the termites' guts. Without it, the numbats got a bad 'case of the runs.'

Numbat FaceBy Helenabella (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsA veterinarian, Marcus Clauss, who specializes in animal nutrition at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, routinely quizzes his students about the natural diet of the anteater. When students respond "ants and termites," he points out:

"That's 50 percent of the truth. Imagine there's an anthill and you lick it with your tongue. Half of that is just dirt."

Yum, dirt. Just sprinkle that over top of termites and tasty tree fiber and your numbat friend will be regular in no time. (I can't help but be reminded of All Bran).

But even more exciting than numbat food is the fact that the Perth Zoo's numbats have produced a record 25 babies this year. 

Up next, enjoy a 2:17 video of hand-raised baby numbats at the Perth Zoo. The zoo breeds numbats and releases them into wild habitats managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation.

Hand-raising Baby Numbats at Perth Zoo

Uploaded on December 6th, 2010 by the Perth Zoo

For 22 Years, Numbats Have Been Making a Comeback

But Now, Another Threat is Looming

NumbatS J Bennett (quollism on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GnericIn 1993, only about 500 wild numbats were known to exist - they were critically endangered.

Today, almost 22 years later, there are an estimated 1,000 numbats living in the wild.

Over two decades have been devoted to breeding (and feeding) programs to save these precious creatures.

The Perth Zoo has been largely responsible for doubling the numbat population.

But I was alarmed to read a March 25th, 2015 ABC report by David Weber titled Feral predators drawn to proposed WA dump could threaten numbat population, environmentalists say.

Naturally, a dump will attract more feral cats, Australian ravens, and foxes who prey on numbats. And the proposed site would be located 6 km (less than 4 miles) away from the Dryandra woodlands. The Dryandra woodlands is one of the few areas where numbats are reintroduced in the wild.

But the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) failed to even assess this proposed site. In a March 16th, 2015 Notice Under Section 39A(3), the EPA's Director of Assessment and Compliance Division, Anthony Sutton, wrote:

"...the overall environmental impact of the proposal is not so significant as to require assessment by the EPA."

Numbat | A numbat has a lie down at Perth ZooS J Bennett (quollism on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThe good news is: the EPA's decision can be appealed.

And according to The Guardian's Calla Wahlquist article, Numbats at risk from proposed Western Australia rubbish tip – conservationists, that is precisely what the Numbat Task Force and Lynn MacLaren, a Greens Western Australia member, did.

MacLaren also urged council to move the dump, even if the EPA rejects their appeals. She stated: 

"If we're wrong about the impact of the tip [dump], there's no harm done. But if they are wrong, and the numbats go, it's a massive price to pay."

Author's note: I looked for an update about this proposed dump site. So far, all I've found is an April 4th post by the Numbat Task Force which shows a newpaper headline: "Numbats in fight over putrid waste." I have contacted the Numbat Task Force to see if they can update me in the comments section of this article.

DSCF3859 | Numbat on LogJinny the Squinny on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Addendum May 17th, 2015

The Nebrikinning Action Group was so kind to leave a detailed message in the comments section of my article which reads: 

"I represent the Nebrikinning Action Group (see our Facebook page) and along with the Numbat Task Force we are doing all we can to campaign against this proposed regional tip which is to be sited on Nebrikinning Rd. in Cuballing, WA, 6kms from Dryandra and within four kms there are four roadside reserves with sightings of endangered species as well.

There have been six appeals to the EPA decision to not assess the proposal and we are also chasing up the Federal Environment Compliance Division as so many of the fauna and birdlife at Dryandra at risk due to this tip are covered under the Environmental Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The Shire of Cuballing will vote on the proposed tip in June or July of this year and we urge your readers to contact them or their own state or federal environmental representatives."

The Numbat is Western Australia's Animal Emblem

Numbat (Standing)S J Bennett (quollism on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThe numbat, aka banded anteater (Myrmecobius fasciatus), is considered one of Western Australia’s most attractive marsupials.

But hey, I like anything that eats termites, ants, or mosquitoes.

Numbats remind me of a combination of creatures: part raccoon, squirrel, pangolin (without the scales, obviously), and the cheery quokka.

On July 25th, 1973, the numbat was proclaimed the animal emblem of Western Australia.

Sadly, the numbat has become extinct throughout most of its range and today survives only in small patches of forest in the south-west of Western Australia.

These unique creatures prefer woodland with thick undergrowth and fallen branches. Numbats make their homes in hollow logs, burrows, and trees.

I couldn't help but notice how crucial it is for numbats (like Canada's Northern Spotted owl) that old-growth forest remains. 

Numbat areaIUCN Red List of Threatened Species, species assessors and the authors of the spatial data. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe Australian Wildlife Conservancy states that today only two naturally occurring populations can be found; Dryandra Woodland and Perup Nature Reserve.

Key to Map:

Green = Native Regions

Red = Reintroduced Regions 

Captive breeding and release programs have also helped increase their numbers at Scotia Sanctuary in New South Wales and Yookamurra Sanctuary in South Australia.

Project Numbat also states that numbats have been reintroduced in the following regions of Western Australia: Batalling, Boyagin, Dragon Rocks, Karakamia Sanctuary, Karroun Hill, Stirling Ranges, and Tutanning.

The biggest threats to the numbat are predation by feral cats and red foxes, reduction in old-growth forest (often via firewood collection or clearing for agricultural use), and wildfires (which also reduces the ground cover numbats need to hide from predators).

This Map Shows Where Numbats Used to Be Found

Numbat Historical Map
Credit: By AUS_locator_map.svg: Yarl Talk • PL derivative work: Baldhur (This file was derived from: AUS locator map.svg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

The historical range distribution of the numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus)

Map Key:

Yellow = became extinct 1800 to 1910

Orange = became extinct from 1910 to 1930

Green = became extinct from 1930 to 1960

Blue = became extinct from 1960 to 1980

Black = remaining natural range in 1980

Note: map based on L. Fumagalli, C. Moritz, P. Taberlet & J. A. Friend: Mitochondrial DNA sequence variation within the remnant populations of the endangered numbat (Marsupialia: Myrmecobiidae: Myrmecobius fasciatus). In Molecular Ecology 1999, no. 8, p. 1545-1549

Fascinating Numbat Facts

Numbat (Climbing)S J Bennett (quollism on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericBesides the sources already mentioned in my article, I rounded up some of these cool facts from Easy Science For Kids - Fun Numbat Facts; Numbat - Perth Zoo; A-Z Animals; the Oxford Journal, and Australian Wildlife PDF titled The Numbat.

Numbats are diurnal, they feed in the day instead of during the night (unlike most Australian mammals).

They have the highest visual acuity of any marsupial (a high number of cone cells in their retina) which also helps them detect predators.

Numbats have a sternal scent gland which probably helps them mark their territory.

They only live in forested areas and prefer eucalyptus trees.

Even though baby numbats cling to their mother's belly for five months, they do not have a pouch. The young (usually four) clamp onto a teat. Ouch!

Numbats do not have strong claws for digging, unlike anteaters (even though they are often referred to as banded anteaters). They are insectivores and eat an exclusive diet of termites. Other insects, like ants, get consumed incidentally.

Apparently, numbats are not strong enough to break into termite mounds (and they lack the big claws that pangolins have), so they wait for termites to come out into easy to reach places.

Other predators that numbats need to watch out for include: birds of prey, snakes, dogs and dingos.

Numbats have more teeth than any other land animal (50 to 52) and strangely enough, they are not used for eating. Their teeth are poorly developed and do not normally protrude above their gums.

Numbat (Climbing Sideways)S J Bennett (quollism on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericAlong with excellent eyesight, numbats have a well-developed sense of smell. They can sniff out the shallow underground feeding galleries of termites.

Females are only able to conceive once a year (usually in January) and only for a period of 48 hours. Gestation is only 2 weeks. As noted previously, the young attach to four teats but sometimes they also wrap their forelimbs around their mother's belly hairs.

It generally takes about six months until young numbats can be deposited in a burrow. 

Numbats have long, reddish-pink, sticky tongues about 10 cm (almost 4 inches) in length. I was amazed to see this next 15-second video snippet where a numbat yawns and you can see its tongue at the 2-second mark.

Perth Zoo Numbat Yawn (Shows Long Tongue)

Published on September 23rd, 2013 by StirlingRangeRetreat

Taken at the Perth Zoo, Western Australia by Graeme and Pamela Schell.

How to Help Numbats

Numbat release areaMark Roy (electricnerve on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericYou can join in helping Project Numbat Incorporated as they partner with the Numbat Recovery Team, Perth Zoo and Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Volunteer graphic designers, school teachers and barbecuers are currently needed. 

I was extremely impressed by their comprehensive education programs for children as well.

And to get your daily fix of numbats, see what the Numbat Task Force has been posting on their Facebook page.

Thank you for sharing my article about Western Australia's endangered numbat with those who also feel that every creature deserves to keep the home that nature provided for them.

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