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Yampi partnership extended with an expanded ecological audit

08 May. 2022
Colin Leonhardt/AWC

By Pippa Kern, Wildlife Ecologist, Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation and Joey Clarke, Senior Science Communicator

Northern Quolls and goannas are among the animals being targeted in a significant expansion to the biodiversity survey program at Yampi Sound Training Area in the west Kimberley, getting underway this year. Yampi is part of the Traditional Lands of the Dambimangari People and, under a five-year partnership with the Australian Defence Force, Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) has been working closely alongside Dambimangari Rangers to plan and deliver ecological and management programs (weeds, fire and feral animals are monitored and reported on annually) at the site since 2016. In a positive move for all, AWC’s formal partnership with Defence has now been extended for an additional two years, along with a commitment to a major scaling up of the science program in 2022–2023.

Yampi

Yampi is vast: at 568,000 hectares, it is Australia’s second-largest military training area and larger than the world’s 30 smallest countries. The landscape is dramatic and varied with towering quartzite escarpments and sweeping valleys of tropical savanna woodland and grasslands, and hundreds of kilometres of rugged coast. Waterfalls spout from cracks in the sandstone during the wet season, and the deeper gorges shelter significant patches of lush Kimberley rainforests, with fruit pigeons feeding in the canopy. The sheer scale of the task means that large tracts have been necessarily overlooked in biodiversity surveys conducted to date.

Black Headed Monitor (varanus Tristis) Charnley River 2 Brad Leue/AWC
The expanded survey effort will target goanna species like the Black-headed Monitor. This reptile is susceptible to predation by feral cats.

Over 2022–2023, Defence has committed to expanding the science program with AWC and Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation (DAC) to undertake the most comprehensive round of wildlife surveys ever at Yampi. By mapping the populations and abundance of species, these surveys will help inform conservation strategies being developed for the long-term management of the Training Area.

Inventory surveys carried out in the initial phase have already confirmed that the area is an important stronghold for threatened species, harbouring critical populations of mammals like the Kimberley Brush-tailed Phascogale, Golden Bandicoot, and Golden-backed Tree Rat.

The expanded survey effort at Yampi Sound Training Area. This is the most comprehensive round of wildlife surveys ever undertaken by AWC and Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation at Yampi. Map created by Pippa Kern/AWC.

The endangered Northern Quoll is a species that is disappearing across the north, but it has been recorded in abundance at Yampi. Known locally as ‘Wijingadda’, quolls have been recorded across almost all habitat types surveyed. Elsewhere, invading cane toads – which continue their westward hop into the region – have taken a heavy toll on Kimberley quoll populations. Surveillance of the quoll populations at Yampi over the next few years will be crucial to understanding what factors might help the species persist.

Other priorities for the expanded survey include: 

  • an array of camera traps in the lowland to target large reptile predators like goanna species (which are also susceptible to cane toads)
  • a separate camera trap array to monitor quolls
  • acoustic recorders deployed to detect bats and frogs
  • a suite of 26 live-trapping sites, stratified to sample the range of different habitats across the property (up from 8 sites surveyed in previous years with teams camping out at each site for 3 nights to run surveys)
  • bird surveys to run alongside mammal and reptile-trapping surveys
  • condition monitoring of isolated rainforest patches
  • camera trap arrays to monitor feral cats
  • aerial surveys for feral herbivores.

Yampi Sound Training Area is of outstanding conservation value and an important area for Dambimangari Traditional Owners, rich in cultural sites. Over the next two years, the AWC field team and Dambimangari Traditional Owners and Rangers will be on the ground building a greater understanding of the biodiversity of the area. In addition, this collaboration enables young Indigenous Rangers to be trained in biodiversity monitoring techniques and feral management. The program provides a rare opportunity for Dambimangari Rangers, Elders and Young People to access remote, restricted areas of their Country, to visit important cultural sites, transfer traditional knowledge and engage in cultural activities alongside the biodiversity program. AWC is committed to scaling up conservation efforts to protect Australia’s wildlife and habitats. This first large-scale wildlife survey at Yampi, and the extension of the partnership for a further two years, helps deliver on this commitment.

Yampi Dambi Tim Woods/AWC
Yampi Sound Training Area is located on the traditional lands of the Dambimangari People. AWC works closely with Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation (DAC) at Yampi and this is central to the success of the partnership with Defence. From left to right: AWC Land Management Officer Amelia Quaife, DAC Ranger Coordinator Matthew Ellis and DAC Rangers Alan (AJ) Mungulu and Phillip Ngerdu on Dambimangari Country in 2021.

Species spotlight: the Western Partridge Pigeon (Geophaps smithii blaauwi)

Northern Australia’s savannas are productive landscapes for birds, with intact grasslands and woodlands providing blossom and seed for noisy flocks of honeyeaters, parrots, finches, and pigeons. Seed-eating birds that feed on the ground are particularly susceptible to changes in grass and groundcover. One of the species that has been identified as vulnerable is the Western Partridge Pigeon. These squat, brown birds often forage in recently burnt patches, making the most of easy pickings on bare ground to feed on fallen grass seeds. Cattle grazing and disrupted fire regimes represent their main threats, while feral cats make an easy meal of them. Western Partridge Pigeons frequent the area close to the operations base at Yampi Sound Training Area, where hills of crumbled sandstone meet the flatter, savanna country. This species is subject to targeted monitoring by AWC and DAC, as part of annual waterhole surveys for threatened birds at Yampi.

Western Partridge Pigeon Joey Clarke/AWC

 

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