Elusive scaly-tailed possum finally spotted by Indigenous rangers after years-long search

Aboriginal rangers in WA’s East Kimberley have captured fresh evidence of the elusive scaly-tailed possum for the first time in years.

The small nocturnal mammal was last captured on camera in 2018, prompting the Kimberley Land Council to conduct further research and surveys in the area.

“The site it was located at was actually outside of its normal range,” Bardi Jawi woman and Kimberley Land Council ecologist Marlee Hutton said.

“There was only one very incidental image of that in 2018.

“This year we went back and decided we were going to go and see if we could get some more substantial footage.”

‘We were excited’
Kija rangers were choppered in to remote gorges to deploy trail cameras that monitor the species, while also conducting vegetation surveys in the region in June.

Ranger Noel Daylight said the group was shocked when they spotted the notoriously timid mammal on night vision after collecting the cameras months later.

“We were excited … we felt chuffed because we hadn’t seen possums like that in a long time,” he said.

“When we showed the old people, they couldn’t believe what they saw when we told them it was the possum.”

The scaly-tailed possum, which has the scientific name Wyulda squamicaudata, is one of only three possum species that shelter exclusively in rocks.

The mammal is now classified as a near-threatened species due to the impact of intense bushfires that have reduced the density of fruiting trees for the possums to feed on.

Kija mascot
The cameras were spread about 100 metres apart in the extremely remote terrain across three gorge sites in the research area.

Evidence of the possums was captured at two of the three sites.

Ms Hutton, who coordinated the survey, said the find was significant because very little was known about the species’ habitat, behaviour, and distribution as sightings were so rare.

“Those three gorges are only a few of a system of what could be hundreds and that means there’s potentially a lot more out there in each of these gorge systems than we know,” she said.

“This species has become sort of a mascot and motivation for the Kija rangers.

“They’ve put so much hard work into protecting these areas and their landscapes and seeing so much destroyed by wildfire and climate change, so it’s nice to see something positive coming from it.”

Ms Hutton said the Kija rangers were “enthusiastic” about continuing research to find out more about the species.

“We are hoping to engage possum experts down the track to hopefully partner with the Kija rangers to set up some more thorough monitoring programs,” she said.