Indigenous rangers have bilbies’ backs

Indigenous rangers from across the Kimberley gathered in Fitzroy Crossing recently in an effort to better understand and protect the iconic Australian bilby.

Bilbies were once found across 70 per cent of Australia, but their numbers have steadily declined since colonisation. They are now found mainly in the Central Desert region of Australia and in the Kimberley in north-west WA.

The first-of-its-kind workshop at Fitzroy Crossing was part of the Kimberley Bilby Project, an initiative that sees WWF-Australia, Environs Kimberley, the Department of Parks and Wildlife, the Kimberley Land Council and independent ranger groups collaborating to look after and record data on bilbies.

Ten ranger groups worked with scientists to learn new skills, share knowledge, develop conservation plans, discuss data management and undertake field training.

“Bilbies are a highly ecologically and culturally significant species, but their numbers have been steadily declining,” said Environs Kimberley project coordinator Malcolm Lindsay.

“We are very lucky in the Kimberley because this region is one of the few strongholds of bilby populations in Australia.

“At present there is very little data about Kimberley bilby populations and that is why the information we are now gathering and recording is so important.

“We are not exactly sure why bilbies continue to have a strong presence in the Kimberley, but we believe it may be due to fewer introduced species, including foxes and rabbits, as well as the relative intactness of the region.

“Working as a team across scientific and government sectors and maximising the knowledge and skills of our local Indigenous rangers is vital to the success of this research and the ongoing conservation of the bilby.”

The workshop included field trips to active bilby sites on Gooniyandi or Ngurrara country.

Ngurrara rangers Marika Rogers and Kristy Jack look after bilbies and were excited to learn more from other rangers at the workshop.

“Bilbies play a big role in the land,” Ms Rogers said. “They move around a lot and when they leave their burrows, it becomes another animal’s home.

“Our old people used to have bilbies as food to give them energy and protein to survive in the desert. Bilbies are the last of all desert mammals and that’s why it’s very important to protect them.”

Ms Jack said the Ngurrara rangers regularly conducted bilby conservation work on country.

“We help protect the bilbies by doing two-hectare plot searches and locating the bilbies’ active habitats and seeing if they’ve been damaged by cattle or other pests,” she said. “We will then build a fence to stop the cattle from hurting the bilbies.”

By Wendy Caccetta

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