53km fence holding back dangerous predator near tiny outback town

The fence has added security measures in a bid to ensure a rare Aussie animal continues to exist for future generations.

The 53 km predator-proof fence running through the red sand at Scotia. There is scrub either side of the fence.
The 53 km predator-proof fence protects the bridled nailtail wallabies from foxes and cats. Source: Steve Parish/AWC

At the edges of a tiny outback town that's home to just 12 people, a massive 53 km fence cuts through the red, sandy landscape. It's all that stands between one of the last strongholds of a rare marsupial and hoards of introduced cats and foxes.

The tiny bridled nailtail wallaby was believed extinct for three decades, but a remnant population was rediscovered in a Queensland national park in the 1970s. Now 20 surviving individuals have been caught and flown across the country to an 8,000-hectare predator-proof safe haven.

The 1.8m high metre fence that protects them is on the outskirts of Scotia — a town you've probably never heard of. It lies 130km south of Broken Hill, near the South Australian border, where temperatures can regularly soar to 40 degrees.

The property that's now home to the endangered wallaby population was purchased in 2002 by non-profit Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). It upgraded the fences around its border with two new design features:

  • A specially designed floppy top that prevents cats from climbing or jumping over.

  • A 50 cm skirting under the soil on both sides to stop foxes digging under.

A bridled nailtail wallaby with a collar being released at the Scotia property this year.
The bridled nailtail wallabies were collared and released at the Scotia property. Source: Brad Leue

Bridled nailtail wallabies have two distinguishing features:

  • A white bridle line down their back and around their shoulders.

  • A horny spur at the end of their tail.

The animals were originally set loose across the Scotia property in stages. Between 2004 and 2005 ecologists released 162, and in 2008 another 267 were placed at a separate area within the predator-free zone.

These two populations have fluctuated, dropping to a low of 70 in 2020 following severe drought. By May 2024 numbers had climbed to 1,774.

“Native animals such as the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby undergo natural cycles of boom and bust in response to prevailing conditions,” AWC ecologist Dr Rachel Ladd said.

This year, as part of a plan to increase genetic diversity, a further 20 were brought to Scotia from the Taunton National Park, inland from Rockhampton. You can watch them being released in the video below.

The species has now been reintroduced into three sites across Australia, with the other two being the Avocet Nature Refuge in Queensland and Pilliga State Conservation Area in NSW.

Australia has the worst mammalian extinction record in the world. Smaller marsupials like the bridled nailtail wallaby have been hardest hit by invasive predators and rabbits.

A total of 23 animal species are known to have been wiped out, and invasive species were behind the loss of 17.

In the Northern Territory, scientists are working to save the endangered northern quoll which are threatened by the ongoing march of cane toads.

For some species, predator-proof fences like those at the Scotia property are all that stand between survival and extinction.

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