Australia is the continent with the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world. A total of 10 percent of the original species have become extinct since Europeans first arrived on the southern continent at the end of the 18th century.
There are a number of reasons why this is the case, but perhaps the most important is the impact of animals that Europeans have deliberately or accidentally released into Australia’s previously isolated landscape.
Rabbits, pigs, donkeys, camels and goats all have a significant impact on the landscape and its wildlife, but by far the most harmful are predators, especially the red fox and the house cat, which both kill. millions of native animals every year. .
However, there are still areas in Australia that have relatively low numbers of introduced predators, and it is in one of these areas that a revolutionary conservation partnership is having a positive impact.
In northwest Australia, the land of Dambimangari, home of the saltwater Worrorra (Dambimangari) people, stretches dramatically along the Kimberley coast.
The rugged and dissected sandstone ranges create a complex landscape in which invasive predators are difficult to move and hunt. This helped it become part of a region of mainland Australia, the Kimberley, which has not suffered any mammalian extinction since European colonization.
“Dambimangari country is special,” said Larissa Potter, senior field ecologist at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), a non-profit organization whose mission is to effectively conserve all native animal species and their habitats.
“It is a region of breathtaking beauty and one of the few unspoiled coastlines in the world.” Here, ancient sandstone cliffs dominate the golden sandy beaches and turquoise waters of the many bays, reefs and coves that characterize the coast.
The terrestrial and marine environments are very diverse, supporting a range of habitats, from streams fringed by tall galleries of paperbark trees, to open woodland savannas of characteristic Australian eucalyptus, and refuge pockets of fruiting plants from rainforest.
These are home to a range of endangered and endemic species, such as the northern quoll, the golden bandicoot, the scaly-tailed opossum, and the nabarlek, the elusive little rock wallaby that lives among the boulders and scree of mountain ranges. coastal sandstone.
The country of Dambimangari includes more than 720 islands, which serve as essential refuges for endangered species on the mainland.
AWC manages over 16 million acres of wilderness across Australia, much of it inside predator-proof fences that allow wildlife to live without the relentless pressure of introduced predators.
In 2001, AWC began working in the Kimberley, developing a network of carefully managed wildlife sanctuaries. In 2018, AWC was invited to form an innovative partnership with the Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation, the organization that represents the Dambimangari people.
For over 60,000 years, long before Europeans even knew Australia existed, the Dambimangari people lived in the region we now call the Kimberley.
However, like many traditional owners, during European colonization they were expelled from their country, and it would remain out of their direct trusteeship for over 100 years.
This started to change in 1998 when the Dambimangari people submitted an indigenous title claim to their country.
An indigenous title claim is an Australian legal process that recognizes the rights and interests of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders over land and waters in accordance with their traditional laws and customs. It took 13 years for the claim to be settled, but in 2011, the Dambimangari people were finally granted custody of around 10,000 square miles of land and coastline.
The Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation (DAC) was created to manage the interests of traditional owners. This included the development of the Dambimangari Healthy Country Plan, a comprehensive strategy for the management and development of initiatives designed to provide an environmentally sustainable future, framed within a culturally appropriate framework, for the region and its people.
The DAC-AWC partnership combines thousands of years of traditional knowledge with the latest western conservation science, with the goal of achieving conservation results.
The CAD-AWC partnership program is guided by the goals of the Dambimangari Healthy Country Plan and the conservation goals of the AWC. He currently sees the two organizations working together to help manage 800,000 hectares of Dambimangari country and is proving rewarding for both parties.
“The Dambimangari and the rangers know their country,” continues Larissa. “For field surveys, they provide essential logistical support and specialist knowledge. “
But there is something more fundamental to this partnership than a practical understanding of the field. “We work alongside people whose culture has existed for tens of thousands of years. By learning about it while discovering the place with them, AWC gains a two-way perspective on conservation. We learn how the Dambimangari see, care for and understand their country. “
For its part, the AWC offers its assistance and expertise in the control of introduced species.
“The number of feral pigs in the landscape is increasing,” says Josh Vartto, Ranger Coordinator at DAC.
“It is undeniable that the damage they are causing to sensitive ecosystems occurring in the land of Dambimangari, from fouling and erosion of riparian areas to intensive grazing and soil compaction in pockets of tropical forest already sensitive. Without the help of an organization like AWC that can work beyond these borders, we really have no chance of controlling the savages.
The partnership has allowed this important region and the species that live there to thrive. To date, 195 species have been confirmed during the partnership, including 111 species of birds, 28 species of mammals, 41 species of reptiles and 15 species of frogs, many of which are rare elsewhere in Australia. In fact, some species, including the northern quoll, golden bandicoot, and nabarlek, are globally endangered.
Inspired by its success with the partnership model working with DAC, AWC entered into another partnership with the Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation in 2019.
This ambitious partnership involves working collaboratively across 1.73 million hectares of North West Kimberley on science and land management activities, improving the conservation of a range of endangered species while generating sustainable income and providing socio-economic benefits to the traditional owners of Ngarinyin (Wilinggin).
The conservation of endangered species is a key global issue, but how we approach the impact of colonization on indigenous peoples is equally important. The success of the partnership in Australia’s far north in protecting endangered species shows how powerful it can be to work together.