wORDS BY THE nUMBAT wHISPERER: sEAN vAN aLPHEN
Since I was very young I have always had a passion for wildlife, especially wildlife spotting. It probably started when my parents would take me and my sister on safaris in Southern Africa. We enjoyed the challenge of finding as many animal species as possible in the amazing National Parks.
Western Australia’s mammal emblem, the numbat, always intrigued me, and when I first visited Dryandra Woodland I fell in love with the area due to the open woodland habitat and the variety of wildlife found within. It bought me back to those safari days in Africa.
Finding a numbat in the wild is a challenge I compare to finding a leopard in the African savannah. I drove through a National Park in Namibia from end to end, covering every track possible, and on day three of my 15 day journey I had two separate leopard sightings.
Did I have any more leopard sightings after that? No.
That is what it is like for numbat in places like Dryandra, Boyagin and Perup. The numbat are out there and you have every chance of a sighting, but do not be disillusioned if for hours, days or maybe even a few times going to these reserves you do not have a desired result.
And so we have covered the first two important points of numbat spotting:
PATIENCE and LUCK!
Click 'read more' to see a gallery of Sean's incredible numbat photos.
HOW TO SPOT A NUMBAT IN THE WILD CONTINUED...
The numbat was once found throughout Southern Australia. This range has retreated extensively due two main factors: land clearing and the introduction of feral animals. The two remaining natural populations are Dryandra Woodland and Tone/Perup Nature Reserve. These two reserves, and the reintroduced populations at Boyagin Nature Reserve and Batalling Forest Block, are the best locations for finding numbat.
Numbats have large territories in comparison to size. Males have a territorial area of 50 hectares and females slightly less. Although they will wander through a variety of habitats, Numbats do have preferred habitats where they spend a majority of their time. In Dryandra and Boyagin numbat prefer open Wandoo woodland with a good amount of hollow log litter.
The fallen hollow logs are a very important requirement for numbat as they are utilised as shelter and for breeding. Open Wandoo woodlands are also abundant with the numbat’s sole food source, termites, of which an adult numbat will consume up to 20,000 a day. The openness of this habitat also makes it easier to spot numbat foraging on the floor or sunning on logs. The Perup numbat prefers Jarrah Forestn and the forest floor is not as open, thus they are more difficult to find, although the fallen hollow log litter still must be present.
3. Time of day
Numbats are diurnal, meaning they are active only during the day light hours. They will begin leaving their sleeping shelter when the daylight is well established although the seasons also play a part in their activity pattern. In the colder months activity is usually between 10am – 4pm. In the hotter months sightings are during two different times of the day. Morning between 8am-12pm, then there is an afternoon siesta and another activity window between the times of 3pm – 6pm.
During Spring and autumn activity can be throughout the day. Statistically for all seasons the peak hour for Numbat activity is 11am-12pm. All these times relate to a perfect day and so our next point does have an influence on these times.
Numbats dislike rain and very cold weather. They are more likely to remain in their log or burrow on cold, wet and windy days.
Numbat prefer mild to warm sunny days as termites are close to the surface and are moving within the galleries on the woodland floor. Numbat also enjoy taking in the sun to absorb the warmth on their skin. The bristle-like fur Numbat possess is very thin and the absorption of the sun warms their body.
If the weather is too hot, like the blistering summer days we encounter in the south west, numbats will limit their activity time and as stated previously will be active in two parts of the day.
Numbats are very much like us when it comes to weather. So think of it this way: the more comfortable the weather is for you, the more chances you have of spotting a numbat.
5. Tools and Methods
Driving is more effective than walking. Walking seems to be too erratic while driving in a car has a more consistent motion as not to startle the numbat as much. I have randomly sighted over 180 numbat and only 7 of those have been while walking.
When driving the speed must be between 10-15kph (Numbat speed) to allow you to scan the area and it certainly does help to have more than one set of eyes. This allows you to cover both sides of the tracks and to not miss any movement.
When you sight a Numbat it is a very exciting moment, but don’t get too excited. Keep quiet, keep still and watch where it goes. Some will bolt and disappear (known as a bolter), some will be slightly startled but will continue to forage (known as a sitter). Many times they will retreat into a log (These are known as waiters). If this occurs please be patient and soon it will poke its nose out and wander from the log entrance to continue foraging. Make sure to have your camera and notepad ready! Although Numbats are quite shy, they can also be inquisitive so please ensure when observing to keep a good distance between yourself and the Numbat.
Patience is definitely a priority. Continued keen eyes as you drive through the woodland not only to spot Numbat but to find signs of Numbat as well. Look at the entrance of hollow logs, observe for diggings. Keep keen! Don’t lose your concentration which is very easy to do as you slowly drive through a woodland and find nothing. Keep yourself occupied by looking for other wildlife apart from Numbat like birds, Echidna, Kangaroos and Wallabies and in the summer month’s reptiles. The reserves that Numbat are found support many species of fauna.
If you follow these pointers then you will greatly increase your chances of finding a Numbat in the wild. I have randomly spotted many Numbat but I will stress I have had many days of finding zero Numbat. The Numbat is an endangered species and with only less than 1000 left in the wild you must consider yourself very lucky to have seen one.
Following these pointers is only a guide and no one I know could ever guarantee a random Numbat sighting.
If you are lucky enough to sight a Numbat please inform the Department of Parks and Wildlife or you can post your sighting on the following Face book Groups according to area.
For more information on numbat conservation and how you can get involved please contact Project Numbat on email email@example.com
Project Numbat is an orgainsation at the forefront of Numbat conservation.When becoming a member you have the opportunity to be involved in some fantastic and important projects. Get involved and get out there!
Another Facebook group that promotes the conservation and preservation of the numbat is the Numbat Task Force.
This is an unofficial group of 4 guys, including yours trully, who promote the numbat in a light humoured, less politically correct way. We are giving the numbat and its preservation a lighter side as to raise awareness to the wider community of our state mammal emblem.
Good Luck Numbat Spotters!
Sean Van Alphen has spotted close to 200 numbats in the wild, hence we call him the numbat whisperer. He is actively involved in projects which protect the habitat and ecology of numbats in Australia, and is generally the best person to ask about spotting a numbat.