Home' Traveller : Scoop Traveller WA 019 Contents December-June 2011 Scoop Traveller 85
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n the past 200 years, pastoralism, introduced predators, altered fire
regimes and diseases have reduced or eliminated populations of
many of Australia’s unique marsupials. Early explorers commented
on the visibility, abundance and even the annoying traits of
Australia’s medium-sized mammal fauna. Today, most people have
never seen or even heard of many of these endearing creatures.
WA’s semi-arid and arid zones have suffered greater mammal declines
than most other parts of the state. Of the 85 mammals (excluding bats)
previously occupying the arid zone, 11 are now extinct, six are extinct on
the mainland and now only occur on off-shore islands, and 16 are severely
restricted in their range. Mammals in the so-called critical weight range
(35g to 5.5kg) have largely disappeared. It’s these that are the focus of the
reintroductions at Lorna Glen Conservation Reserve.
Known to local Aboriginal people as Matuwa, Lorna Glen is a former
pastoral lease about 160km north-east of Wiluna. The Western Australian
Government acquired the station in 2000, and it is now managed jointly
by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and the
Wiluna Aboriginal community for conservation and cultural purposes.
The property contains at least 20 different land systems and broad
vegetation types, supporting a high diversity of plants, invertebrates and
small vertebrate fauna, including 70 species of reptile and 15 small mammals.
The conservation of biodiversity across the whole landscape – rather
than one species at a time – is the focus at the Rangelands Restoration
Project, with the aim to restore natural ecosystem function and
biodiversity to almost 600,000 hectares of rangelands by 2020.
The project has several tactics to restore the natural ecosystem, including
control of introduced herbivores like cattle, camels and rabbits, and
predators including feral cats and foxes. The introduction of ecologically
appropriate fire regimes to promote vegetation diversity will also reduce
the impact of large-scale wildfire events that homogenise habitats,
while 11 species of mammals that previously thrived in the area will be
reintroduced. The project is unique in both its large scale and its attempt to
control introduced predators without the use of predator-proof fences.
Successful establishment at Lorna Glen will not only improve the
conservation status of many of these mammal species, but also return
important ecological benefits that native animals provide, such as soil
cultivation through digging and burrowing, nutrient and water cycling,
and seed dispersal. The return of these animals is also important for the
Wiluna traditional owners and other western desert groups, most of whom
may have heard about these animals, but never seen them. Many of the
mammals that once occurred in the arid zone were an integral part of their
culture and an important food source.
In the 1990s, the Desert Dreaming Project reintroduced boodies
(Bettongia lesueur) and golden bandicoots (Isoodon auratus) to large
areas of the Gibson Desert after effective fox control. Unfortunately, the
reintroductions failed because with fox numbers down, feral cat numbers
rose. DEC scientists learned lessons from this and are implementing their
new strategies at Lorna Glen. One of the aims of the project is to determine
how much feral cat populations need to drop to enable the successful
reintroduction of mammal species. Today, cat numbers have been reduced
Rivergums form just part of the flora at the Lorna
Glen site. OPPOSITE The Lorna Glen reserve is a
former pastoral station located 160km north-east of
Wiluna. OPPOSITE INSET Artificial burrows
are dug for the bilbies to be released into.
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