Rangelands NRM Blog, News & Resources

New survey helps understand habitat and threats to Kimberley rock wallabies

[November 2013]

Aboriginal Traditional Owners have been assisting with survey work to collate information on data gaps and threats to rock wallabies in the Kimberley.

The Rangelands NRM-funded project enabled WWF-Australia to work in partnership with Aboriginal rangers, community groups, University of New England (UNE) and the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) to record the occurrence of three threatened rock wallaby species: Narbalek (Petrogale concinna), Monjon (Petrogale burbidgei) and the Black-footed Rock-wallaby (Petrogale lateralis).
WWF-Australia (WWF) Kimberley Program Manager Tanya Vernes said over 30 days of on-ground survey work was undertaken at six areas from the Edgar Ranges in the south to remote and difficult to access areas in the north and eastern Kimberley region.  Out of these six areas, 59 survey sites were monitored.
“Such a large scale survey of rock-wallaby species in the Kimberley has never been undertaken before,” Ms Vernes said.
Being able to survey for threatened and data deficient or understudied species has been a definite benefit of this project.
Participants were trained in wallaby survey techniques including camera trapping (set up and analysis), scat collections, habitat assessment for rock-wallabies, and identification of species.

A broad range of people were directly engaged and involved in project surveys and/or training, including Aboriginal rangers, volunteers and research staff.
“Some sites had never been surveyed for rock wallaby species and some known sites had not been revisited for up to 50 years or since first type specimens were returned over 100 years ago,” Ms Vernes said.

The project team were able to locate and record evidence of individual rock-wallaby species; develop baseline data for future surveys as well as increasing the understanding of threatened species both from an Indigenous and scientific perspective.

Ms Vernes said the project was able to deliver above and beyond expectations, largely due to the collaborative work between ranger/Aboriginal groups, the KLC, WWF, and UNE so that both scientific expertise and Indigenous perspectives shaped the project and ultimately delivered some very important information on rock-wallabies and a range of other rare and threatened species.
Accessing remote sites by both road and helicopter, the field work aimed to produce a rapid assessment or first broad brush of the presence, or absence, of these three rock-wallaby species. However, the data gathered tells a much richer story as cameras captured a wider suite of animals, many of whom are rare or threatened including the golden backed tree-rat and northern quoll.

Ms Vernes said analysis of the huge amount of data is currently underway.

“Thousands of sensor camera images now need to be catalogued and the reporting for each of the survey sites will take further time,” she said.

WWF has separately contributed funding for an Honours student to analyse Monjon and Narbalek scats and camera data from the field surveys in the north Kimberley and provide another point of reference for identification of these species.

It is intended that survey results will be useful for planning and management of Indigenous Protected Areas, as well as for informing state and national government management plans for threatened species.

For more information read the WWF-Australia’s action plan for threatened macropods.

Images: A Mojon captured on camera (©WWF-Australia)