The only pouchless marsupial
Numbats are the only marsupials without a pouch, and one of only two marsupials that are active during the day.
They are the only marsupials that feed exclusively social insects (ones that live in colonies), such as termites.
The numbat's story
The numbat is a highly distinctive carnivorous (animal-eating) marsupial. It isn’t closely related to any living marsupial. One of its closest relatives is the now-extinct thylacine or ‘Tasmanian tiger’.
Numbats were originally found in woodlands, sand dunes and forests across Australia, but are now restricted to woodlands where only two original, isolated populations survive, one at Dryandra Woodland and the other at Perup Nature Reserve.
Numbats have evolved a tube-shaped mouth and long sticky tongue, which they use to feed exclusively on termites. One numbat can eat up to an incredible 20,000 termites each day! They also use trees hollowed out by termites as shelter. Numbats are active in the daytime. This is because termites are near the surface of the ground during the day, but it also means they are very easy for predators to spot.
Once, numbats could be spotted across Australia. Sadly, the species is now extinct in over 99% of its former habitat types, mainly as a result of foxes and cats, which were introduced by European settlers two centuries ago. Millions of feral cats are the main culprits behind Australia's high rate of mammal extinction, wiping out native species and creating ‘marsupial ghost towns’.
Tragically, numbats have now disappeared from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and the Northern Territory. They are also affected by inappropriate fire regimes, reducing the number of hollow logs for numbats’ shelter, and by the conversion of woodland to farming land.
What’s being done?
Extensive conservation efforts are underway to save the two remaining natural populations, while conservation breeding and reintroduction programmes have succeeded in establishing six populations in parts of the numbat's former range. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) protects more than 50% of the global population of numbats, including the monitoring of a numbat population of 600 in Scotia. They also have an ambitious national translocation program that recently translocated ten numbats to its Newhaven Sanctuary. This was an historic moment as they were regionally extinct in central Australia for over 60 years. The AWC works to address the key drivers of native species loss, using predator-proof fences, tracking feral predator behaviour and movements, and running predator-control programmes, as well as engaging local stakeholders and indigenous communities and spearheading a programme to reinstate indigenous fire management practices that are beneficial to native marsupials.
In December 2019, conservationists released ten numbats into the fenced, predator-free Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary. These special numbats have become the first to live in Central Australia for 60 years!