One of the things that struck Dr Anja Skroblin at the inaugural Ninu (Bilby) Festival was the connections between communities from opposite ends of the
country, through ancient stories and songlines about bilbies.
“There’s a connected cultural heritage going back thousands of years from Broome down through to the deserts of South Australia, and bilbies are an important part of that,” says Dr Anja Skroblin from The University of Melbourne, which is working in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy.
“Bilbies are one of many significant small animals for the Indigenous peoples of the Australian deserts, but unfortunately many of the other animals are now extinct.
“They used to be found across most of the country west of the Great Divide - in Adelaide, Perth, Victoria and throughout Queensland. But now they’re mainly found in the northern WA and NT desert, and one small part of Queensland, due to a range of threats such as livestock grazing, rabbits, feral cats, foxes and modified fire regimes.
“We estimate around 80 per cent of the remaining bilby population is on Indigenous land, and strong community engagement, as well as support for Indigenous groups to conduct land management is vital to stop further declines and conserve the species.”
Dr Skroblin joined more than 120 Indigenous rangers from 20 different ranger groups, scientists, philanthropic conservation organisations and key government representatives to share ideas and experiences and discuss the latest research conducted on managing bilbies.
“It was good to hear the monitoring priorities from the different Indigenous groups, learn more from their cultural stories about bilbies and also to support the twelve Martu ranger ladies I was accompanying,” says Dr Anja Skroblin.
Through the TSR Hub’s Project 3.2, Dr Skroblin is working with the Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ) and Martu people to combine western scientific and Indigenous ecological knowledge to monitor and ensure the survival of the bilby in the desert.
“Bilbies are notoriously difficult to monitor because they’re nocturnal animals, but they do leave signs of their presence in the form of tracks, scats, diggings and burrows,” she says.
“Martu and other Indigenous groups have an exceptional ability to read the signs on the landscape, and have incredible bilby tracking skills. From the tracks they can tell the size of the individual, what they were doing and how long ago they were there.
“The ranger teams work on country to manage cultural heritage and ecological values, and threatened species monitoring is one of their key activities. They’re working across enormous areas and will often camp out for weeks to undertake surveys in remote locations.
“We’re working together to develop a monitoring program that gives KJ more power to detect population trends. The ranger teams want to know whether the bilby populations are stable, declining or increasing.
“This will give the ranger teams better information to plan where they monitor, how many sites they need to visit and the effectiveness of their land management practices – which includes patchy fire regimes, feral cat hunting and even baiting in some places.
“Stories that came from different groups at the festival suggest bilbies are doing really well around Indigenous communities which undertake patchy mosaic burns.
“Mosaic burning is part of the traditional hunting and management methods Indigenous peoples have been applying for many thousands of years that suits the bilbies quite well, as it leaves them areas to hide from predators while creating food resources in newly burned areas.”
Another highlight of the festival was the attendance of Walkley Award winning cartoonist First Dog on the Moon, who documented his experience for The Guardian.
Karajarri Rangers are leading a Threatened Species Recovery Hub research project to investigate how different fire management approaches affect biodiversity. The first field trip took place in April this year, when a team of 16 rangers, support staff and scientists journeyed to the Edgar Ranges for eight days of wildlife monitoring. Hub researcher Sarah Legge worked with the rangers to compile this report from the field.
Cissy Gore-Birch is a member of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub’s steering committee and the Chair of its Indigenous Reference Group. The Indigenous Reference Group was established to assist hub leaders and project teams to strengthen the engagement and participation of Indigenous people in the hub’s activities and research projects. Cissy recently attended the Species of the Desert Festival on the Paruku Indigenous Protected Area, where she spoke about both threatened and culturally important species, and increasing the voice of Indigenous people in environmental policies and research.
Dr Sally Box, the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Commissioner, talks about the importance of working with Indigenous groups to conserve Australia’s threatened species.
Researchers from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub are calling on citizen scientists to help them learn more about Australia’s possums and gliders by recording sightings in a new, free app. Dr Rochelle Steven from the University of Queensland is passionate about Australia’s possums and gliders and believes people in the community can do a lot to help support conservation, especially in urban areas.
There are 27 different types of possums and gliders in Australia. They have a huge variety of sizes, shapes and appearances. We’ve compiled a profile on every species here. One quarter of our possums and gliders are listed as threatened under Australian environmental law. Help their conservation, be a citizen scientist: you can record sightings of possums from your local areas in the free 'CAUL Urban Wildlife App'.