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New survey to understand habitat and threats to Kimberley rock wallabies

[February 2013]

In conjunction with Aboriginal Traditional Owners, a WWF-Australia project will survey two rare species of near threatened rock wallabies in the northern Kimberley and one in the south.

The project funded by Rangelands NRM will map the habitat and threats for the Narbalek Petrogale concinna (pictured) and Monjon Petrogale burbidgei rock wallabies which inhabit the Mitchell Plateau and adjacent regions in the northern Kimberley, and the black-footed rock-wallaby Petrogale lateralis in the southern Kimberley.

Very little is known about current population, location, or threats to these three species. The main aim of the project is to map the occurrence to help determine current range, assess critical habitat and threats to populations

Jess Koleck, technical assistant at WWF-Australia said by focussing on the unique habitat and threats, it is hoped that the results of the survey will provide an update on the distribution of these species, and anything that may be impacting on their survival.

It has been well over a decade since any surveys were undertaken in the Kimberley and we hope that the surveys will show the populations are still thriving.

But it is possible that threats such as fire, feral cats and wild dogs are causing a decline, as we have seen with other populations of rock wallaby across the state.

“The threats to these two species are likely to have a wider impact on the whole ecosystem,” she said.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assesses the status of Narbalek Petrogale concinna as ‘data deficient’ and indicates that a survey of this species should be a high priority.

The Monjon Petrogale burbidgei is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as ‘near threatened’ and the assessment indicates that more research into the population, location and threats to the species is required.

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

Surveys will include camera traps to identify the wallabies and their habitat, analysis of their scat to give an indication of population presence, assessment of habitat and the input of local knowledge from Traditional Owners. The camera traps may also reveal information about other little known species and expose predatory feral animals.

Ms Kolek said that due to short project timeframes for the field survey component, WWF will develop a longer term monitoring plan that Aboriginal rangers can undertake themselves or through fee-for-service arrangements.

WWF will work collaboratively with Aboriginal rangers to exchange knowledge and assist the development of skills in more technical aspects of survey techniques.

WWF has been training a broad range of groups for many years, and in 2012 we worked with the Nyikina-Mangala rangers to survey black-footed rock wallabies (Petrogale lateralis) in the southern Kimberley.

“We will continue this work in 2013 alongside the north Kimberley surveys for Monjon and Narbalek,” she said.
The Monjon is the smallest of the rock wallabies and can be differentiated from the nocturnal Narbalek by their shorter ears and feet.

However, both species are small, with the Narbalek also known as the ‘elegant rock-weasel’ weighing an average of 1.3 kg in the dry season and 1.4 kg in the wet season.

The unique and biologically-important Mitchell Plateau area, located in the far north Kimberley is described as one of the least disturbed ecosystems left in the world.

For more information about WWF-Australia’s action plan for threatened macropods download the Action Plan.