Bandicoots

 

 The Successful Breeding and Reduction of Juvenile Mortality in the Long Nosed Bandicoot (Perameles Nasuta) in captivity.

by 

Lance Jurd. B.Sc.,N.D.,D.B.M.,D.N.
 


Introduction.
 

Please click on thumbnail to enlarge

The long nosed bandicoot perameles nasuta is found in Eastern Australia from Northern Queensland to Southern Victoria.  They were once found throughout Sydney but over the year’s urbanisation, feral animals and domestic dogs and cats have caused local extinctions.  They were once abundant in Riverstone and I remember feeding them at our back doorstep as a child.  They were also seen at Wentworthville, Seven Hills and Quakers Hill but are now locally extinct

The Long Nosed bandicoot is the last bandicoots to survive in the Sydney Harbour area within a few kilometres of Manly at North Head.  There have been bandicoots around the harbour for maybe as long as forty million years and we are seeing them slowly disappear and this is extremely fast on an evolutionary scale. 

The aim of my research was to find a better way to breed them in captivity reducing juvenile mortality therefore producing large numbers that could be released into the wild especially around North Head.   It is only a matter of time before they are endangered.   My project began in January 1995 and finished in October 2001and required a lot of time and money to complete. 

This is not a scientific paper as such, but a demonstration of how to successfully keep and breed bandicoots.  No weighing of animals or checking pouches occurred as this only stresses the animals.  I initially had one male and two females and others were added each year to ensure genetic variation. 

All juvenile bandicoots once weaned and left the pouch all reached maturity and no deaths occurred in juveniles in six years.   This procedure could be used for the Eastern Barred Bandicoot perameles gunni and possibly other species.

Method. 

In designing a program like this I’ve taken into consideration other breeding programs done by A.G. Lyne, E. Stodart, Julie A Murphy, and Ray Williams.    I used their ideas as a starting basis.    The important aspects for my own project was to have a compartmentised enclosure, live and prepared foods and to not handle the animals.    This can cause stress in perameles nasuta causing them to kill there young or die prematurely. 

Housing and Shelter. 

The enclosure is 300 square metres (20m x 15m) set on a rich loam base.   It is compartmentised into five sections, which gives the animals’ areas to themselves without being able to see other bandicoots.   This is very important in a small enclosure and necessary for successful breeding.   They are able to move about freely to different compartments except section 1 (see plan at end of paper).   This area is a temporary digging area that also contains a pond, which attracts insects.   The bandicoots were allowed in this area from 7pm until 10pm where there was an abundance of worms and grubs.   This area had no wire covering it and was illuminated with a 25watt globe that had been painted with transparent ultramarine oil paint and glaze medium.   This allowed a diffused light effect allowing you to see the animals but not too bright on their eyes. 

The enclosure walls were a flat sheet galvanised iron that was painted green. The iron was implanted into the ground 30cm and was above the ground 82cm. It was held together with 5cm x 10cm timber and posts from the outside. The compartment walls were made the same and were covered with chicken wire to prevent predation by cats, dogs and owls.

Section 2 was 180cm high so you could walk into it and also had a door allowing bandicoots into section 1.    Both sections 2 and 4 were partially covered to allow some shelter.   Section 3 had two 1 metre squared raised boards which were 15cm off the ground. They made their nests from tussock grass under these boards as well as out in the open.                                                                        

Side of the cage showing raised board with bandicoot about to come out. Bandicoots eating prepared food.

Please click on thumbnail to enlarge

Hollow logs were also available in the enclosure, which they used sometimes. Long tussock grass was planted in the enclosure to provide shelter and security for the juveniles.   The floor in section 2 and 3 were kept moist so that compost worms could be put there for the bandicoots to dig up.   Section 3 was used as a cricket feeding area.   A maximum of 15 bandicoots were kept in this enclosure, including the juveniles and showed no problems with disease.   A compost heap was put inside the enclosure to attract insects. 

Diet. 

Perameles Nasuta is mainly insectivorous, digging the ground for worms and grubs but also eat insects on top on the ground.   In captivity they were given both live and prepared food to ensure maximum health and prevent disease.  

1. Live Food 

    (A). Compost Worms were kept in white disused grape boxes 52cm x 35cm. The substrate was a mixture of peat moss, sand and soil.  They were fed chicken mash and vegetable scraps.   Strips of cardboard were put on top of the substrate over the food.   A thousand worms were bought at a time and I had six containers in use.   About 30-50 worms were put into sections 2 and 3 every second day. 

    (B). Mealworms were kept in used ice cream containers in a mixture of bran and pollard.   They were given sliced carrots, apple, and potato.   A sponge soaked in water provided water for them.  Mealworms were given everyday to the bandicoots in a small bowls within section 3.

    (C). Brown Crickets were given everyday, so I also had a breeding program for them.   This was to keep up a healthy supply because they are an important food source for bandicoots.   Three containers were used to hold them.   Two containers 25cm x 35cm x 45cm were used to hold breeding crickets and juveniles.   The other container 56cm x 39cm x 30cm was used for adults.   Half of the lids were cut away and fly screen was hot glued in this area.   The half that was not cut away goes over the light source.   The boxes were fitted with a 40watt frosted ultramarine painted blue light.   One was fitted with a thermostat set at 25 degrees Celsius and this controlled the three boxes.    

The breeding box contained 15 females and 10 males and these were changed every three weeks.  Eggs were laid in Chinese food punnets with a substrate of 2/3 sand and 1/3 peat moss.   This was kept moist by spraying with a water mister.   After 5 days it is taken out and a new one put in.   A lid with holes in it is put on with the date marked and this is put into the juvenile container. 

The eggs hatch in about 20 days and they are fed cabbage leaves, lettuce and bran.  The leaves are sprayed with water.   Egg cartons can be put in also.   They reach maturity in 12 weeks. 

The adult crickets have egg cartons, cardboard separators and used toilet roll centres to hide in.   There diet consists of cabbage, lettuce, endives, beet tops, radish, apple, cabbage, potatoes, carrots and cuttle fish bone for calcium.   There was also a mixture of bran, oatmeal, cornmeal, and crushed rat and Eukanuba® Premium pellets.   Water was supplied in small plastic dishes with sponge in it. They were also given oranges before feeding to the bandicoots. 

Other live foods were beetles, cockroaches, grasshoppers, slaters, any soil dwelling invertebrates, grubs, millipedes, moths, earwigs, snails and black crickets. 

2. Prepared food. 

Seven bandicoots eating the prepared food on a plastic plate

Please click on thumbnail to enlarge

 A lot of time was spent trying different foods to find out what the bandicoots liked best, so there was no waste of food.  There was no use giving the bandicoots food which they never consumed.   The following foods were always eaten by the bandicoots. 

1. Eukanuba® Premium - 1 cup soaked in water while the other foods were prepared. 

2. 1 cup of premium beef mince cooked in a saucepan and the fat and liquid drained off.   Then an egg is added and stirred in while still cooking, remove from heat and than add 1 dessertspoon of Wombaroo® small carnivore mix and stir in well. 

3. Half a cup of Heinz® high protein cereal.   Just add enough water to make a paste but not runny.  

4. Sardines.    4 or 5 broken up and use paper towel to soak up any oil. 

5. Wholemeal bread with a little peanut butter.   The nutritive bread was also given twice a week.     The recipe is given at the end of this paper. 

6. Melons and black dried currants were also given. 

7. Water was always available in tin bowls. 

8. Other foods given occasionally were tropical fruits, hulled sunflower seed, blackberries, mulberries, banana, apple, sweet potato, turnip and carrots. 

Their diet did not vary much from this and they seemed to thrive on it and bred continuously for most of the year except during winter.    There was a lot of food given but the combination of live and prepared food kept them healthy and contented.  

Nest Building. 

Typical Nest showing the use of tussock grasses.

Please click on thumbnail to enlarge

Nests were dug out as a depression in the ground, where the bandicoot would lie.  They would use leaves and tussock grass to line it, with tussock grass and soil also on top.   The size of the nest varied from 30cm to 60cm and entrance was not visible once the bandicoots inhabited it.   Nests sometimes contained two bandicoots and juveniles and were quite warm even in winter. 

Some nests were made of leaves and soil that were not apparent until the bandicoot emerged.   Tussock grass placed in the enclosure was quickly used for nesting with little left the next morning.   Nest building usually occurred after 10pm when the bandicoots had finished their food and foraging.   To gather the tussock grass they used their forelegs and pulled it back towards them.   They would dig a depression and use their body to form the shape of the nest and pull the grass into place. 

Breeding. 

A young juvenile following the mother

Please click on thumbnail to enlarge.

Breeding occurred most of the year except for a low in winter.   Most litters were usually 2 or 3 juveniles but occasionally they would have 5.   Their oestrous cycle is about 20 days and the gestation 12.5 days, the shortest of any marsupial. They have 8 teats in a pouch that opens downward and backward. 

Mating occurred at any time but usually before midnight.   Many times in summer they would come out before dark usually 5pm onwards and mate.  The male would not follow the female long before mating in daylight.  At night the male would follow the female persistently up to several hours before mating. 

The young grow rapidly and the first hairs appear at about 40 days, the eyes open at 45-50 days, and weaning at 60 days.   When the young are 50 days old the mother can mate again.   In one case the mother mated while the young were still in the pouch on the 4/12/97.   The young came out of the pouch and were left in the nest on the 10/12/97 while the mother foraged for food.   On the 19/12/97 the juveniles left the nest and foraged for themselves and the mother produced another litter. 

The loss of pouch young due to stress and handling was common according to Lyne 1982.   Young were either found dead or eaten by the mother.    Hall 1983 found no difference in litter size during pouch development but a high mortality rate after leaving the pouch.     E. Stodart claims that of 35 young born, from 12 litters only 12 made it to weaning.   This didn't occur in the bandicoots I bred, all juveniles that left the pouch reached maturity and no deaths occurred.   I believe this was due to high quality food, a compartmentised enclosure and not handling them. 

Juveniles once out of the pouch would follow the mother and watch her dig and participate as well.   They soon learnt where the mealworms were and the prepared food.   The key to keeping them alive was the use of the high protein cereal, sardines, and meat and egg mix.   They would lick at the high protein cereal and eat the meat than they would just follow the mother around and return to the plate occasionally.   If still quite young they would return to the pouch while the mother was still feeding. 

Some Observations on behaviour. 

Bandicoot foraging for crickets

Please click on thumbnail to enlarge

Over the almost six year period they were watched on many nights, but mostly from dusk up until 11.30pm.   Most of their eating, foraging, mating, and water drinking occurred in this period; after midnight many had returned to their nests, or lay on the ground with their legs stretched out relaxing.   This occurred a lot in summer on hot nights; similar to how a dog might lay down.  I believe this behaviour may be due to the fact that the bandicoots were given food rather than searching for it, whereas in the wild populations more time may have been spent searching for food. 

They were feed usually 30 minutes before dark.    I began to call to them ‘come on’ and they got used to hearing my voice and related it to food.    So eventually they would come out when they heard me and from different sections of the enclosure; this was before it was dark.   This continued with their offspring as well and become part of the daily feeding routine. 

The first food that they would eat was the mealworms that were in a separate bowl.   Bandicoots have an extremely strong sense of smell and this bowl could be put anywhere but they would quickly find it.   Then they would start on the prepared food. 

Brown crickets were always given after they consumed some of the prepared food.   Their behaviour would change immediately and I believe this sharpened their natural instincts.   They would run after the crickets and stop to listen to the movement of the cricket through the grass.   Then they would pounce on them with their forelegs together and pick the cricket up with their teeth.    If they missed the cricket they would move their head fast and zone in on where the cricket had moved to and excitedly pounce again.   This was an important part of their lives as they acted as wild bandicoots and not captive ones. 

The interaction between males in the enclosure was usually brief but sometimes there was a chase, or hissing at each other and standing on their back legs.    No serious injuries ever occurred from fighting except fur off the back, but rarely. One male would move to another section and that would be it. 

I did not find the Long-nosed Bandicoot aggressive or entirely solitary as compared to the Northern Brown Bandicoot.    They ate at the plates together and were not aggressive towards one another.    Whilst digging food they weren't aggressive unless another bandicoot tried to get to close. 

In the open section where they could dig for 3 hours they would come back and forth freely between section 1 and the other sections.   I would sit in this section and they were not afraid to come up and dig around my feet, as they were used of human contact and because I did not handle the animals I posed no threat to them. 

There was a sheet of plastic at the edge of the pond where cockroaches, crickets, slaters, and spiders would hide and they would go under there for food and sometimes try to make there nests there.   At 10pm they would be taken out of section 1, this was a simple matter of rounding them up and herding them in the right direction.  Sometimes there was some that did not want to go because they were still digging and they would stand on their back legs and hiss but they were eventually persuaded.    In six years I was never bitten by any of them despite the fact that they had no fear of me at all.

Sometimes juveniles would be put into another pen and when they reached 5 months old they were released.    I never encountered any tics on them (or me) all the time I kept them, even though they are renowned for tics. 

Grooming was done daily, mainly scratching with the hind foot or the snout, but this lasted a few minutes and than they continued with they’re foraging. No diseases occurred in these animals. They had a distinct squeak, which they made when moving around which puts them at a disadvantage from predation. 

Discussion. 

These bandicoots are omnivores feeding on or under the ground.  They are nocturnal usually emerging at dusk but sometimes an hour before that.  They were very active when they were out but also had periods where they retired to their nests during the night.   On nights when it was cold and damp they would retire to their nests and not be seen again. 

They did not defend territories in the enclosure and rested together in nests during the day. Stodart claims that of the seven bandicoots released in 500 square metres only 3 survived after 2 weeks.    I believe this was because of the food availability rather than density of space, as up to 15 lived in my compartmentised enclosure only 300 square metres without problems. 

The Long-nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta)

Please click on thumbnail to enlarge

Overall, the bandicoots were easy to keep and maintain and were not aggressive and bred easily in captivity. 

Recommendations for the survival of Bandicoots. 

It is known that seven species of the eleven Australian bandicoots are now either extinct or endangered and have a severely diminished distribution.   They have been under enormous strain since European settlement, firstly through heavy grazing by sheep and cattle removing ground cover, then the introduction of foxes and cats.    Foxes are land sharks they don't belong here and should never have been brought to this country.   They will move into an area and will continue to eat until there is nothing left and than move on.   Bandicoots have no chance against a fox and I believe they have caused more Australian animals to become endangered or extinct than from any other cause.   In urban areas land clearing takes away their habitat but everyone wants cats and dogs and that finishes any chance of survival for the bandicoot.   Even in places where there was plenty of bandicoots in the Vineyard area,  that was across the creek and the habitat is still the same and untouched; the bandicoots are now gone due to the foxes.   I have seen this first hand and what has happened over the last forty years.   It is only a matter of time before all bandicoots will be endangered except up Cape York and where man has intervened such as the Eastern Barred bandicoot in Victoria.    The reason is that if you are not monitoring an area than they can be becoming locally extinct without anyone realising it.    Cats and foxes are killing bandicoots every night on the East Coast of Australia and their numbers are decreasing.   It is only a matter of time before there all gone.  

Captive breeding programs are one way to increase their numbers but where do you put them unless you have fenced areas.   The Woodlands Historic Park was a great idea for Eastern Barred Bandicoot because there was 400 hectares with a 1.8 metre high electric fence.    Earth Sanctuaries was also good because it kept out foxes and cats and gave the bandicoots a chance.    Breeding them and putting them back into the wild is useless as the foxes and cats will only eat them.    

I have purchased 55 acres of natural bush but without a fence it’s hard to protect anything.    I will just do my bit to protect what I can and hope other people do the same.                      

References.

Dufty, A.C.D., 1988. The distribution, population abundance, status, movement and activity of the eastern barred bandicoot at Hamilton. B.Sc. thesis; La Trobe University, Bundoora Victoria.
 
A.G. Lyne; The bandicoots Isoodon macrourus and Perameles nasuta; their maintenance and breeding in captivity. C.S.I.R.O.

Julie A. Murphy; Behaviour of Eastern Barred Bandicoots, Perameles gunni, Breeding in Captivity.

E.Stodart; Management and Behaviour of breeding groups of the marsupial Perameles nasuta Geoffrey in Captivity.

Ray Williams; Bandicoots- Their housing, feeding and breeding.

 

NUTRITIVE BREAD

 

This is a whole food containing all the vital nutrients.    It builds strength and vitality.

 

1/3 cup maize flour

1/3 cup rye flour

1/3 cup millet flour

1 dessertspoon of rice bran

2 dessertspoon raw sugar

1/2 cup water

2 dessertspoons virgin olive oil


Grains.
3 dessertspoons barley, 2 dessertspoons rye, 2 dessertspoons wheat, 2 dessertspoons brown rice, soak in water 10 hours, strain, let sprout 24 hours, this

releases minerals, and blend lightly in blender.

 

1.  Mix the dry ingredients and than the blended grain in a bowl

2.  Add water and oil and mix into a dough.

3.  Put on board and knead and than roll out ˝ cm thick.

4.  Put on greased baking tray and cut into 4cm squares.

5.  Bake in oven for 40 minutes at 140 degrees Celsius.

 
Keep in container in refrigerator.

 

 

 
 
Bennett's Wallaby
Juvenile NT Brushtail Possum
Swamp Wallaby
Golden Brushtail Possum
Red Kangaroos
Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies
Baby Squirrel Glider
Sugar Glider
Euro

Copyright © The Marsupial Society of Australia Inc. 2003 - 2006 All rights reserved. Privacy Statement

 

Email Webmaster