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Rare. Elusive. Are they still here?

Have you seen one of these cute critters?? If so, you have spotted one of the rarest animals on the NSW far south coast - the brush-tailed phascogale (phas-co-gale).

I am a wildlife biologist who has worked with this species for years and thought the pretty marsupial with its bottle-brush tail was extinct - or near enough - on the NSW far south coast. However, when reviewing records for the revised edition of ‘The Mammals of Australia’ published by the Australian Museum, I came across a recent sighting at Broulee. So now I’m seeking help from locals to work out where phascogales might still be and where they may have been recently.

Brushtailed phascogales are rare. They are listed as a threatened species in every state and territory of Australia. In total there are only 21 records for southern NSW – about 3 records per decade. The one at Broulee was spotted at night foraging in the compost heap at Carroll College (2015) and before that there was a sighting at Longbeach (2007), at Duesbury Hill at Dalmeny (2001) and Dunn’s Creek Rd, near Malua Bay (1997).

This species is not often seen as it is arboreal and doesn’t like coming down to the ground. It is also nocturnal and solitary, and within the trees can be so lightning fast that it vanishes before you get a good look. It is completely dependent on large, old, trees for hollows to nest in during the day and for its food of bark insects - so habitat destruction, logging, clearing for development - and more recently drought and wildfires – are all a worry. Cats are also a big problem.

So how do you know if you have seen one? In appearance they are around the size and the colour of a sugar glider (about 30cm head to tail), but they look a bit like a squirrel because of their brushy black tail. When excited all those hairs stand on end and the tail looks like a bottle brush. That is the really distinguishing feature. The most likely way you might encounter one is if it has moved into your ceiling (they do this quite commonly) or the cat has brought one home. They also love nestboxes, and if you have these on your property the “best” time to do some nest box watching is at dusk in May-June during the mating season, when the males run around like crazy, and again between November to January when the young are dispersing.

If you have seen a phascogale in the past on the far south coast please get in contact with me, Susan Rhind, via this dedicated email address: