Warru recovery program
Warru, or black-footed rock-wallaby (Petrogale lateralis Macdonell Ranges race), is one of South Australia's most endangered mammals. Once common across the rocky ranges of central Australia, there has been a dramatic reduction in their distribution and abundance.
Only two wild populations of warru are currently known in South Australia. These are in the eastern Musgrave Ranges and the Tomkinson Ranges of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in north-western South Australia.
What is the warru recovery program?
In 2007, the very real concern that warru could become extinct in South Australia led to the formation of the Warru Recovery Team. This team is a partnership between:
- traditional owners of the APY Lands
- the communities of Kalka, Pipalyatjara, Pukatja and Kenmore Park on the APY Lands
- the Australian Government
- the South Australian Government (Alinytjara Wilurara)
- APY Land Management
- Ecological Horizons Pty Ltd
- Conservation Ark (Zoos SA)
- University of Adelaide.
The warru recovery team has implemented a range of recovery actions that bring together contemporary science, practical on-ground threat management and traditional Anangu ecological knowledge.
The warru recovery team has five main areas of work in order to recover populations of warru:
- managing existing warru populations
- establishing a captive warru population in order to facilitate eventual reintroductions
- research into the ecology of warru
- ongoing governance of the program through the warru recovery team
- monitoring warru populations.
What is being done?
The two existing warru populations are managed through a range of measures including:
- ongoing fox and cat baiting regime at the Eastern Musgrave Ranges site
- fire management at known sites in order to protect populations but also enhance their habitat
- ongoing warru survival monitoring through radio-telemetry
- monitoring of population sizes through annual trapping and warru scat abundance monitoring
- ongoing surveys for new populations
- management of buffel grass.
Captive breeding and reintroduction
With the full permissions of Anangu, baby warru were removed from the APY Lands and transferred to Monarto Zoo where, with veterinary expertise, they were cross-fostered with yellow-footed rock-wallabies. This will increase the long-term distribution, abundance and genetic diversity of the species in South Australia.
In 2010, a 100 hectare predator-proof warru enclosure – known as the ‘warru pintji’ (warru fence) – was constructed to help the captivity-bred warru safely acclimatise and adapt to local conditions. The site was chosen with full consultation with the warru recovery team and traditional owners through a process that combined local knowledge and scientific criteria, with the pintji itself built entirely by Anangu and warru rangers. Since 2011, more than 15 warru raised in captivity at Monarto Zoo have been released into the warru pintji, and free breeding is now taking place.
All warru in the pintji are being monitored through radio-telemetry and scat counts, and regular tracking is carried out to pick up on any potential fox or cat attacks. In 2011 fire management around the pintji saw it protected from wildfires, while carefully controlled burning within the pintji is providing important food resources for warru.
Wild Warru Trapping Survey 2016
Over the past decade, the Warru Recovery Team and employees from the APY Lands have successfully undertaken black-footed rock wallaby trapping surveys. Performed annually until 2014 and every second year thereafter, the 11th trapping survey in the Musgrave and Tomkinson Ranges, located north-east and north-west of the APY Lands in South Australia showed encouraging signs that the warru population was in recovery. Driven by a passionate and dedicated team, this is a true story of success.
PhD students at the University of Adelaide have worked closely with Anangu, warru rangers and the warru recovery team since 2007. Two students have studied various aspects of warru ecology to provide information that will enable the warru recovery team to better manage warru. Areas of research included:
- habitat preferences
- movements in relation to fire management
- water use and reliance
- spatially explicit population viability analyses
- intra-population and landscape scale genetic analyses.
Two themes are central to the warru recovery team’s work:
- recovery of warru will lead to broader landscape scale environmental benefits
- the warru recovery program will lead to positive social change in APY communities through training and employment opportunities.
The warru recovery program now employs more than 20 permanent and casual warru rangers to monitor warru, control predators and undertake weed management activities.
The recovery program has been so successful that Anangu involved in the project have developed a new Tjukurpa (creation story) for the warru that have been raised in captivity.
In recognition of the progress of the project, the warru recovery team was awarded the National NAIDOC Caring for Country award in 2011.
APY Land Management; Australian Government – Working on Country Program; Conservation Ark – Zoos SA; Ecological Horizons Pty Ltd; University of Adelaide