Warru Recovery Project
The warru is South Australia’s most endangered mammal.
Also known as the black-flanked wallaby, or the black-footed wallaby, warru (Petrogale lateralis MacDonnell Ranges race) were once widespread throughout the ranges of central Australia. This remarkable species has faced a significant decline over the past 80 years and is now considered the state’s most endangered mammal.
There are two remaining populations of warru in the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, near Pukatja (Ernabella) community in the eastern Musgrave Ranges and near Kalka community in the western Tomkinson Ranges. They are separated by several hundred kilometres. In 2022, 40 warru were translocated from the Musgrave population to a site in the Everard Ranges near Mimili, establishing a third wild population.
Their drastic decline in the wild has been primarily caused by feral predators like foxes and cats.
In 2007, the local extinction of warru at Wamitjara led to the formation of an official steering committee the Warru Recovery Team (WRT) d to assist in the management of warru. Today the WRT consists of APY Land Management staff, Traditional Owners, Aṉangu warru rangers and the broader Aṉangu community, and ecologists from various organisations including the Alinytjara Wiluṟara Landscape Board, Department for Environment and Water (DEW), Conservation Ark (Zoos South Australia), Ecological Horizons and the University of Adelaide.
Warru are an important part of culture on the APY Lands and their recovery sees an important collaboration between research, science and culture. The Aṉangu community and Warru Minyma, a group of senior women, play an important role in bringing their traditional and ecological knowledge into the decision-making process of the Warru Recovery Team.
In 2007 the first cross-fostering occurred when pouch young were taken from the wild populations on the APY Lands to Monarto Zoo. Warru joeys were cross fostered with yellow-footed rock-wallabies to increase the rate of captive breeding.
A Warru Recovery Plan was developed that outlines the key obstacles and opportunities to fulfil the vision of the Warru Recovery Team and its stakeholders of reversing this decline and restoring warru to their former range where their Tjukurpa can continue to develop.
In 2010 a 4km long predator-proof fence was constructed, enclosing 100ha to preserve the species in their natural environment and to provide a safe-haven for the warru in the captive breeding program while they adapt to their natural environment, safe from feral predators such as cats and foxes. This fence is known locally as the Pintji (pronounced pin-chee).
In 2011 two separate releases of captive bred warru occurred with a total of eight warru returning to the APY lands and being released into the Pintji.
Also in 2011 the Warru Recovery Project proudly won the National NAIDOC 2011 ‘Caring for Country’ Award and also launched the Warru Recovery Plan (WRP) 2010-2020 and released the first WRP annual report.
In March 2015 another release from the captive breeding program at Monarto Zoo saw a further six warru released into the Pintji. During Pintji trapping in October 2015 there was a record number of warru captured, showing positive progress within the feral-free area.
The overarching 40-year objective of the Warru Recovery Team is to downgrade the status of warru in South Australia from endangered to vulnerable. Maintain genetic diversity and increase the distribution and abundance of warru in South Australia.
The recovery of warru in South Australia will lead to broader environmental benefits. There are a number of other threatened species in the region, such as the desert skink, that will benefit from the land management and conservation activities.
The Warru Recovery Plan recognises the potential for warru recovery to facilitate landscape-scale positive environmental change in the APY Lands, including other species and ecosystems affected by processes such as fire and predation by introduced carnivores.
The Warru Recovery Team in the APY Lands released the first group of black-flanked wallabies into the wild as part of a carefully managed eight-year recovery program.
Healthy young warru from the enclosure and the New Well wild population have been transferred to the rocky slopes of Wamitjara in the nearby Eastern Musgrave Ranges. In 2022, 40 warru were trapped in the Pintji and at New Well, and translocated to a site near Kulitjara in the Everard Ranges to establish a third population of wild warru.
Over the last few years the small, nearby wild population at New Well has also increased due to the Recovery. Warru conservation is currently and will in the future play a critical role in providing training and employment opportunities for Aṉangu, as well as strong connections to historical and contemporary Tjukurpa. Six full-time Aṉangu Rangers are dedicated to the ongoing predator, weed and fire management activities.