Nearly Extinct Aussie Bandicoot Given New Hope On New Island Home

After being driven to the brink of extinction on mainland Australia, one little native mammal is starting a new life on an island off the coast of Victoria.

It's been an incredibly rough road for the Eastern Barred Bandicoot.

Though once widespread across the grassy woodlands of southwest Victoria, the long-nosed and stripy-backed animal is now considered extinct in the wild.

The destruction of almost all its native habitat and the threat of invasive foxes and feral cats have left the bandicoot's numbers dwindling.

Eastern Barred Bandicoot joeys during a health check-up at Weribee Zoo in Melbourne. Image: AAP

On Friday night, 55 Eastern Barred Bandicoots were quietly released on French Island, in Western Port Bay south-east of Melbourne - -a new safe haven for the species' growing population.

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The animal has never lived on the island before, but conservationists hope this fox-free territory will be the perfect place for breeding, and provide a form of insurance for the survival of the bandicoot.

“It’s been a long road to get to this stage, but to see the bandicoots racing into their new home has been an incredible result for all involved,” Zoos Victoria Threatened Species Biologist Dr Coetsee said.

“These French Island Eastern Barred Bandicoots, who have travelled by boat from four different locations across the state, now have the space to increase their population size and help save their species from extinction.”

Eastern Barred Bandicoots being hand reared At Melbourne Zoo on April 15, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.

The Eastern Barred Bandicoot Recovery Team was formed in 1988 after the species' population on mainland Australia fell to as low as 100.

A captive breeding program was established in 1991, with more than 950 bandicoots born at Melbourne Zoo, Werribee Open Range Zoo and other partner organisations since then.

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After the recovery team determined that fox-free islands offer the greatest chance of reestablishing wild populations, small numbers of bandicoots were released onto Churchill Island and Philip Island to great success.

“The populations on Churchill Island and Phillip Island have demonstrated that Eastern Barred Bandicoots can successfully establish in island environments," Philip Island Nature Parks Deputy Director of Research, Dr Duncan Sutherland said.

"Whilst also having positive environmental effects including the reduction of soil compaction, and improved nutrient and water infiltration."

Eastern Barred Bandicoots being hand reared At Melbourne Zoo on April 15, 2015. Image: Getty

Friday night's release is the third and final step in a decades-long fight to save the Australian mammal, and conservationists are thrilled.

“This is, by far, the most challenging release we’ve ever done and the most rewarding thanks to the support of French Island residents who care deeply about their island home and have welcomed the Eastern Barred Bandicoots onto this fox-free environment," Dr Coetsee said.