Indigenous cultural exchange helping to save endangered Bettongs

Posted on May, 09 2024

WWF-Australia's Rob Brewster and Narungga youth release a bettong on Guuranda (Yorke Peninsula).

The brush-tailed bettong, once driven to the brink of extinction, is making a remarkable comeback thanks to a unique project involving Aboriginal Australians, with support from WWF-Australia.

The night was bracing and the sky awash with stars when a young Narungga boy knelt to the ground and gently untied the cloth bag. 

A furred snout popped out, illuminated by torchlight. The small crowd hushed. 

Then, in a flash, the brush-tailed bettong - also known as woylie - bounded into the dense mallee of Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park.
It was the first of 36 jet-setting bettongs released on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula (Guuranda) in June 2022 as part of the groundbreaking Marna Banggara project, during a whirlwind 48-hour operation that will resonate for generations.

Woylies welcomed to Narungga Country in a meaningful gesture

“Each and every one will leave a footprint on our Country,” said Garry Goldsmith, from the Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation, at the time.

“The reintroduction of these bettongs starts to bring Country back to where it should be. You can then see what it means to have healthy Country – Marna Banggara.”

The endangered animals - known as woylies in Western Australia - had begun their epic journey in the forests of the Noongar Nation, more than 2,000 kilometres away in southwest Western Australia.

After being caught, undergoing health checks and being fitted with monitoring devices, they were carefully stowed and flown across the Nullarbor. The bettongs were on their way to make a new home on Narungga Country, in a cross-cultural exchange like no other.

Noongar and Narungga people come together in a cross-cultural exchange

 “Woylies play a vital role in helping us to sustain and manage Country,” said Iszaac Webb, Wadandi (Saltwater People) cultural custodian of the Bibbulmun (Noongar) nation.

Iszaac was one of the Noongar Traditional Owners who escorted the precious cargo. The Noongar people’s generous gesture warmed hearts on the coldest of nights, and Iszaac was proud to be a part of it. 

“Working with Traditional Owners from other parts of Country to re-establish woylie populations has been great … to help protect their Country as well. The collaboration and knowledge sharing shows the unbroken connection we have to Country; it’s part of our kinship as Aboriginal people,” said Iszaac.

Representatives from the Narungga People (Aaron, Cyril, and Garry) travelled to Western Australia to meet the Traditional Custodians, the Noongar People (Iszaac and Shawn), and to support ecologists and a team from the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions to capture and translocate 36 brush-tailed bettongs.

“It was endearing of our Countrymen to give something that is a part of them to us, to bring new light and new growth to our Country,” Garry said.

“There are no divisions or lines in the sand when it comes to helping our Country to replenish, to heal. Our dreaming has always been that we’re connected, not only by our stories but also by our spirit and values.” 

The trailblazing bettongs of 2022 were joined by another cohort from Western Australia in June 2023. Altogether more than 190 animals have now been released into a predator-controlled area on the foot of Yorke Peninsula.

Recent monitoring has shown the bettongs – known as yalgiri in the language of the Narungga people – are thriving in their new home. The monitoring team found 95% of the females checked were carrying pouch young.

It is an amazing turnaround for a species that completely disappeared from Yorke Peninsula more than a century ago.

Bettongs: part of the songlines of Guuranda (Yorke Peninsula) once again

Brush-tailed bettongs once occupied more than 60% of mainland Australia, but introduced predators like feral cats and foxes, and habitat loss pushed the species to the brink of extinction.

The small, kangaroo-like marsupial has only survived in tiny pockets of Western Australia, offshore islands in South Australia, and a handful of fenced sanctuaries.

“Bettongs are the first species to be put back into this ecosystem on Yorke Peninsula because of their significant role as a soil engineer,” said Rob Brewster, WWF-Australia’s Rewilding Program Manager.

“They turn the soil, improving moisture retention and penetrability, burying seeds and leaf litter and creating the conditions for regeneration and germination. Having this species back is a huge benefit for the future of the landscape and its resilience.”

Marna Banggara seeks to develop a safe haven for Australia’s most threatened species, restore habitat and improve agricultural productivity.

It has taken an incredible team effort to get this far, according to Derek Sandow, Marna Banggara Project Manager with the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board.

“The most amazing experience for me has been working with Traditional Owners,” he said. “It’s great to see the bettongs get out on the ground, but it’s also great to see the cross-cultural exchange between the Traditional Owners.” 

“It makes our family’s hearts very happy.”

“These woylies are part of our family, so now the Noongar and the Narungga, we are like two families that have become one family,” said Iszaac, back in 2022. “It makes our family’s hearts very happy.”

The Marna Banggara project is jointly funded through the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board, the Australian Government, the South Australian Department for Environment and Water, WWF-Australia and Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife. 

Other partners actively involved in developing and delivering the project include Regional Development Australia, South Australian Tourism Commission, Zoos SA, FAUNA Research Alliance, BirdLife Australia, Nature Conservation Society of SA, Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation, Primary Producers SA, Primary Industries and Regions SA, Conservation Volunteers Australia, Legatus Group, Yorke Peninsula Council, Yorke Peninsula Tourism and Scientific Expedition Group. Find out more at

On 15th May, we will celebrate the first ever World Species Congress, run by the Reverse the Red coalition, a virtual 24-hour event, intended to amplify our collective efforts to accelerate impact for species. As we mark this day, we hope that the dedicated efforts to recover the Bettong will serve as an inspiration for the conservation of other endangered species across the world.