Australia A fire ravaged Sydney's North Head, but wildlife is finally bouncing back
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Angela Rana admits to having an emotional attachment to North Head Sanctuary, at the gateway to Sydney Harbour.
It started with a wildlife internship in 2018.
Ms Rana, a PhD student, later planned a thesis on how small mammals assist with the pollination of the Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub.
The plant species was common at North Head, despite being critically endangered.
Then, in October 2020,
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Ms Rana said the fire changed the course of her PhD.
"Even just aside from my PhD plans taking a sharp turn, it was just a lot to process emotionally," she said.
North Head Sanctuary had been the site of a long-running release program aimed at repopulating the area with small mammals.
Eastern pygmy possums, bush rats and brown antechinus were all part of the program, run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.
After the fire, came the confronting sight of how much had been lost.
"It was quite shocking," Ms Rana said.
The release program is led by ecologist, Viyanna Leo.
"[We're] devastated and mostly really worried about the animals and the things that live on the headland that we've been looking after for so long," she said.
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"There was really, really high mortality. We won't really know the numbers properly until a bit more time has passed."
Assuming some of the animals had survived, her small team worked quickly to provide them with protection.
Fortunately, a section of the bush towards the middle of the headland had been spared but the loss of so much habitat made the animals vulnerable to predators on the ground and in the air.
Researchers installed shelters made from chicken wire, in the shape of long tunnels, to help the animals move more safely around the sanctuary.
This has now become the focus of Ms Rana's PhD work.
"I was actually quite surprised to see how many were using the tunnels," she said.
Of the three released species, bush rats have been observed since the fire, as have eastern pygmy possums, with young.
Less is known about the fate of the brown antechinus.
"It's wonderful … to see that things can bounce back," Dr Leo said.
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Nest boxes that were destroyed in the fire have been replaced and dozens of extra ones have been installed.
As awful as the past few months have been, researchers are trying to make the most of the situation.
"When the black summer fires happened, there were so many questions that people didn't know how to answer," Dr Leo said.
"They didn't know if we should be deploying habitat, or food, or what to do.
"And this has given us an opportunity to look into those sorts of things."
Researchers hope to restart the release program when the time is right.
"For now, the focus is on recovery, on supporting the wildlife that's still here."
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