Wildlife Matters

Indigenous partnerships protect Kimberley jewel

15 May. 2020
© Colin Leonhardt/AWC

Dr Skye Cameron, North West Regional Ecologist, David Nelson, Senior Field Ecologist, and Dr Karen Young, Wildlife Ecologist.

Indigenous managed lands and protected areas are vital for the conservation of Australia’s unique biodiversity. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Western Australia’s remote Kimberley – a region of international conservation significance.

A massive 93 per cent of the 42.35 million hectare region falls within Native Title lands, including Indigenous Protected Areas. AWC is working with Dambimangari and Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporations to protect this stronghold for threatened and endemic species. These pivotal partnerships are crucial for the successful delivery of conservation outcomes in the region.

Dambimangari Rangers, Wilinggin’s Wungurr Rangers and AWC field staff have been working together to further develop and implement science and land management strategies in line with Healthy Country Plans and AWC’s conservation goals. This includes collaborative development and implementation of early dry season burning programs – ‘right- way fire’. Right-way fire protects Dambimangari and Wilinggin land and protects threatened and endemic species that find refuge here.


Dambimangari wet season surveys (2019-2020)

Biodiversity surveys target the most pressing gaps in western knowledge regarding the presence and distribution of mammal fauna within the 800,000 hectare Dambimangari partnership area. Navigating driving rain and cyclonic winds that typify wet seasons in the north-west, Dambimangari Rangers Azarnia Malay and Shorisha Ozies, and AWC ecologists deployed 100 camera- traps over a large area of the basalt- dominated central-northern region. A further 25 were dispersed on the Yampi Peninsula (3,500 trap nights in total).


Image 001
Camera traps confirm awe-inspiring biodiversity found in Dambimangari and Wilinggin partnership areas.


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Camera traps confirm awe-inspiring biodiversity found in Dambimangari and Wilinggin partnership areas.


The hard work is paying off; previously unrecorded species continue to be confirmed. The most recent survey grew the inventory by one mammal, six reptile, 10 bird and 10 frog species, taking the total to 82 confirmed species. These results highlight the astonishing biodiversity of this Kimberley jewel.


Nabarlek © AWC
An endangered Nabarlek (Petrogale concinna) caught on one of the camera traps on Dambimangari county.


Dambimangari Ranger Peter O’Connor was in awe of the diversity delivered by this survey. He says two-way learning will benefit both the rangers and AWC.

“I can learn a lot from western conservation, and it’s also about teaching the people I work with from AWC what I know” he said.

“For me, the highlight is just being on Country and having the connection back to land. Seeing the beauty of the country, the ancientness of it. People walked the country back before Dambi and AWC. It’s a last frontier, a last bit of country in Australia that’s untouched. And that’s unique.”


Wilinggin wet season surveys (2019- 2020)

Wilinggin and AWC completed the first joint biodiversity inventory surveys over the recent wet season. In total, 86 cameras were deployed by Wungurr Ranger Luke Russ, Traditional Owners Liam Watson and Cassidy Charles, and AWC ecologists at 17 sites across the 1.7 million hectare partnership area.


Wac Cassidy (yanduma) Charles Flagging A Camera Spot Karen Young © Karen Young/AWC
Cassidy Charles (Wilinggin Traditional Owner) deploying a camera trap on survey.


Deployment and later retrieval of cameras occurred under very hot and humid conditions. Abundant enthusiasm and excessive sweat delivered an astonishing 4,644 trap nights. Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation’s Desiree White is learning how to tag and identify all the animals captured on camera with AWC Wildlife Ecologist Dr Karen Young. Preliminary results have already identified 22 mammal, 17 reptile, 30 bird and one amphibian species, plus two notable plant species. That’s a total of 72 species from this survey alone which covers only one portion of the partnership area.

Capturing the essence of this partnership, Wilinggin’s Wunggurr Ranger Luke Russ said the partnership with AWC brings “opportunities for knowledge exchange travelling both ways between Wilinggin and AWC – to get a more solid footing of knowledge.”


Wac Pantijan Team Cassidy, Karen, Luke, Joe, Liam Na © AWC
WAC Pantijan team – Cassidy Charles (Wilinggin Traditional Owner), Karen Young (AWC Wildlife Ecologist), Luke Russ (WAC Wungurr Ranger), Joseph Porter (AWC Field Ecologist) and Liam Watson (Wilinggin Traditional Owner).


The future looks bright

The results of these surveys, across both partnership areas, are contributing towards the development of an extensive wildlife inventory of the Kimberley. This survey effort is building our collective knowledge and enables us to measure, refine and prioritise our conservation efforts.

It also helps to build Traditional Owner capacity and provide greater opportunities for Traditional Owners to get on Country in a meaningful way. Reflecting the sentiment that resonates throughout our Kimberley partnerships, Luke Russ said: “We look forward to the full flowering of the partnership. The future looks bright.” We couldn’t agree more.

Read and download this full issue of Wildlife Matters here.

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