Traditional Owners conducting scientific monitoring in the far north Kimberley have found exciting evidence of a tiny rock-wallaby long thought to have disappeared from the region’s mainland.
Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation’s Uunguu Rangers recently collected scats which Australian Museum scientists have identified as being from nabarlek - Australia’s second smallest rock-wallaby.
The furry grey nabarlek is roughly the length of a school ruler – with a light brown brush-tipped tail and a black stripe running from the forehead to nose and under its eyes. These unique nocturnal marsupials live in rugged, rocky country where they feed on grass and herbs.
Rangers have been collecting rock-wallaby scats, or ‘waadi’ in local language, as part of a project with WWF-Australia and funded by Lotterywest. In 2016 a healthy nabarlek population was confirmed on an offshore island in Wunambal Gaambera Country.
Uunguu Rangers Sonny French and Desmond Williams collecting scats in the field, on Anjo Peninsula, north Kimberley. © Kim Doohan / Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation
This year they actively collected rock-wallaby scats across the Vansittart Bay area near Mungalalu Truscott Airbase. The samples were again sent to the Australian Museum in Sydney for DNA analysis, which detected nabarlek DNA most similar to samples collected from populations on several offshore Islands. This highlights the usefulness of natural history museum collections in facilitating definitive species identifications.
Previously there had been no confirmed nabarlek records on mainland WA since the mid 1970s. Kimberley nabarlek populations were thought to only survive on several offshore islands away from fire, feral animal and grazing threats.
Isolated sub-species of nabarlek also existed in parts of the Northern Territory, although they have also not been recorded for many years, and the species has a national conservation status of “endangered”.
Head Uunguu Ranger Neil Waina said Wunambal Gaambera people were excited to discover nabarlek populations on the mainland where the ranger group has worked hard to implement Wunambal Gaambera’s Healthy Country Plan in partnership with Bush Heritage Australia.
“In recent years, we have seen a dramatic reduction in damaging wildfires from our “right-way” burning project across Wunambal Gaambera Country, particularly in the Vansittart Bay area,” Mr Waina said.
“To finally discover nabarlek still living on the Kimberley mainland after so many years of thinking they may have gone is a great boost for us and the work we are doing to keep our country healthy and intact.”
WWF-Australia's CEO, Dermot O’Gorman, said Traditional Owners were essential to protecting Australia’s wildlife and places.
“The knowledge, skill and efforts of Traditional Owners are key to saving the unique animals of the Kimberley. Indigenous rangers are totally committed to managing their country and conserving its wildlife,” Mr O’Gorman said.
Uunguu Rangers are now photographing nabarlek via camera traps and seeking funding for further monitoring and research to determine the size and spread of the mainland population.