Rangelands NRM Blog, News & Resources

Birriliburu rangers protect bilbies in the Western Desert

[October 2012]

Threatened species across twenty million hectares of the Birriliburu determination in the Western Desert are being protected by the skills and expertise of local rangers.

A federally-funded Caring for our Country (CfoC) project is assisting rangers to identify, monitor and protect important threatened species habitat such as the bilby.

A collaboration between Rangelands NRM, Central Desert Native Title Services (CDNTS), Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ) and the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), the ‘Bioregional NRM in the WA Rangelands’ project is supporting intergenerational knowledge transfer and enables a rich collaboration between Martu knowledge and contemporary science.

CDNTS Project Manager Hamish Morgan said this year has been particularly significant with the identification of active, fresh marntangarlku sign (bilby) in the Carnarvon Range, along the Canning Stock Route and in the Gibson Desert.

“The Birriliburu rangers and traditional owners have become expert at identifying the habitat signature of bilbies, often associated with rira (laterite land form) country/and or woodland habitat forms,” Hamish said.

These habitat forms are rare in the spinifex-dominated desert and at serious risk from large hot wildfires.

“By putting in cool, patchy winter burns around these habitats the rangers are ensuring the ongoing survival of bilbies and other threatened species in the desert,” Hamish said.

In June 2012, the Birriliburu rangers and traditional owners made the long journey to Mungkalu, 150 km east of Well 16 on the Canning Stock Route. Mungkalu is particularly significant due to its rare and valuable habitat form, and it’s cultural significance as a vital tjukurrpa (dreaming) site, and as a key camping (ngurra) rock-art and ceremony site for countless generations of Manjiljarra people.

The rangers conducted ground burning on the way and also completed monitoring around a potential bilby habitat.

“The rangers and traditional owners found extensive fresh bilby tracks and dozens of recently active burrows and also identified the presence of nidi (juvenile) marntangarlku tracks, a great sign for the viability of the bilbies in that habitat,” Hamish said.

After rangers set up a number of camera traps on the most active burrows, the return journey revealed excellent footage of bilby activity (see photo).

Initial surveys of the gorge were also conducted at Mungkalu looking for signs of a range of species including rodents, wallabies and evidence of feral camel impact.

The rangers’ work also includes the survey and maintenance of waterholes ‘ which are vital for the health of country, animals, plants and culture. The active maintenance of waterholes is a strong demonstration of the intersection been Martu knowledge, culture and custodianship of country, and contemporary natural resource management and scientific monitoring methods.