Image: Reece Pedler/UNSW

A crest-tailed mulgara — thought to be extinct for more than 100 years — was recently found burrowing through the sand dunes of New South Wales.

Known previously only through fossilized remnants, the animal is one of two species of mulgara found throughout Central Australia. These marsupials have crested bushy tails, measure up to a foot in length, and boast sandy-blonde fur.

Crest-tailed mulgaras feed primarily on small mammals, reptiles, and insects. They persist in harsh desert environments and require little water for survival. In fact, they get most of their water from animal juices and the innards of invertebrates.

The mulgaras were originally driven to extinction due to the introduction of invasive species including cats, foxes, and rabbits, all of which have European origins. Their return to existence in this specific area could be indicative of a natural decline in rabbit and invasive predator populations.

The recently spotted mulgara was found by researchers from the Wild Deserts project on a scientific monitoring trip in Sturt National Park, located just north-west of Tibooburra. Researchers identified the animal as a young female before releasing it back into the wild, hopeful for its reproduction.

Wild Deserts aims to reintroduce locally extinct mammal species back into their native habitats, which also involves removing some invasive species like rabbits, feral cats, and foxes. The greater bilby, burrowing betong, Western quoll, and Western barred bandicoot are the project’s primary focus, but they will now keep their eyes peeled for mulgara tracks as well.

“Next year we are due to begin introduced predator and rabbit eradication from a large area, which will no doubt help the Mulgara,” Pedler stated in a press release.