Sanctuary project for rare animals

Daniel Mercer
Sanctuary project for rare animals

Some of WA's most endangered mammals will be moved to a predator-free sanctuary in the Mid West, courtesy of a landmark project to safeguard the State's ecological heritage.

The area is being set up as part of a five-year, $5.3 million plan by green group Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Perth-based resources company Top Iron, which wants to develop and iron ore mine nearby, is contributing to the plan financially.

Located near Mt Gibson, about four hours drive north-east of Perth, the project will involve the construction of a 43km fence to "establish the largest fox and cat-free area" on mainland WA.

The sanctuary will span 7800ha.

Central to the plan's success will be the reintroduction of nine native animals that have long since vanished from the area, including bilbies, numbats, woylies and western barred bandicoots.

In a report on the project, AWC said the Mt Gibson area had some of Australia's worst fauna extinction rates, with up to 50 per cent of mammals lost to predators.

AWC chief executive Atticus Fleming said the initiative was groundbreaking and no other wildlife restoration project had increased the population of nine endangered types of mammals.

Mr Fleming said the contribution of Top Iron's biggest shareholder Xiaonian Wu provided an example of the way foreign investment could help conservation.

"This partnership sets a new benchmark for the mining industry in terms of reinvesting the benefits of the mining boom in on-ground conservation," he said.

"Endangered mammals such as the numbat and the woylie have suffered massive population declines in the last decade.

"This investment by Top Iron will help AWC reverse these declines, delivering a measurable increase in the population of at least nine endangered species."

Top Iron managing director Bruce Richardson, whose company will stump up $1.4 million to the project, said the plan sought to strike a balance between conservation and development.

"Both parties are committed to generating the best possible economic and ecological returns," Mr Richardson said.

"It is good news for shareholders, for the community and for the numbats, bilbies and other species to be reintroduced."