The mahogany glider (Petaurus gracilis) holds a special connection to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, and the people within. Once more abundant, the mahogany glider is now Queensland’s only endangered glider species and endemic to the Wet Tropics region and parts of the adjacent dry tropics.
Traditional Owners of the Girramay tribe call gliders ‘Mungarru’. The mahogany glider is only known to occur in a narrow band of open, wet sclerophyll woodlands between Ollera Creek (40 km south of Ingham) and the Hull River. It is nocturnal creature which can occasionally be seen at night climbing on tree branches feeding on nectar and pollen or sap and insects. Their cosy dens are made in the tree hollows.
Once thought extinct
The mahogany glider was recorded as a distinct species by Europeans in 1883, however, from then until 1989 it was not distinguished in the scientific record from the squirrel glider. During the 1950s local residents at Cardwell referred to them as sugar gliders. After this rediscovery in 1989 as a distinct species, the mahogany glider was declared ‘endangered’. The status of endangered is partly due to loss of habitat cleared for agriculture, urban sprawl and exotic pine plantations. This has led to the remaining habitat being isolated and fragmented. Inappropriate fire regimes and severe tropical cyclones have also reduced the glider’s natural woodland habitat. Some management activities now seek to improve the survival of the mahogany gliders and their habitats.
The future of gliders
The combination of Indigenous knowledge and modern science in management programmes may play the key role to the conservation of the mahogany glider. Conservation groups such as the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland collaborate with Powerlink, Terrain NRM and Girringun Aboriginal Rangers to monitor mahogany glider populations around Lily Creek near Cardwell. Indigenous-guided fire-management and habitat restoration has been maintained on farms and properties. Local schools and community groups are also actively involved in mahogany glider habitat rehabilitation and assist land managers to better understand the glider’s needs. Following the devastating effects of Cyclone Yasi on mahogany glider habitat in 2011, the local community, land managers and conservation group volunteers spent tireless hours installing den boxes for displaced gliders, providing supplementary feeding stations and caring for sick and injured animals. This continued support and collaboration of a passionate group who rallies land managers and the wider community into action means that mahogany glider populations may once again be secure in the wild.
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