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18 Jan, 2012 01:00 AM

WERRIBEE Open Range Zoo is stepping up the fight to save the eastern-barred bandicoot from extinction.

In a move to boost its conservation arm, Zoos Victoria, which includes Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary and Werribee zoo, has released a priority list of species it says are in urgent need of help.

Werribee zoo’s life sciences curator, Madelon Willemsen, says her efforts are aimed at the eastern-barred bandicoot, which is endangered in mainland Australia.

The zoo has installed six kilometres of 2.3-metre-high feral-proof fence and built breeding pens for the 20 bandicoots under its protection.

“The fence around the property will prevent cats, foxes and rabbits, who live in the same habitat as eastern-barred bandicoots, then we plan on releasing some into the basalt plains open-range areas of the zoo. At the moment, the bandicoots can breed five joeys at one time, but the average is three a year, so it’s quite surprising these animals are in danger of becoming extinct,” Ms Willemsen said.

“We feel with our help we’ll be able to save them.”

The bandicoot is still prominent in Tasmania, where there are fewer foxes, but only about 300 are left in Victoria.

Werribee zoo aims to foster a self-sustaining population of bandicoots it can reintroduce into the wild near Hamilton, while maintaining a population in captivity. Next in the zoo’s sights are the Leadbeater’s possum and Lord Howe Island stick insects.

“Melbourne Zoo is doing good breeding work with endangered animals, but they don’t have the space we do here at Werribee.”