Mutitjulu elders have launched a new Central Land Council ranger group to manage the vast Katiti Petermann Indigenous Protected Area around the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park.

Central Land Council chairman Francis Kelly said Mutitjulu’s Tjakura rangers – the CLC’s 12th ranger group – took their name from the Pitjantjatjara/Yangkunytjatjara word for the threatened great desert skink.

“They are proud to wear the logo with the tjakura on their uniforms because that’s what our rangers are so good at: looking after endangered plants and animals the proper way, under the guidance of their elders,” Mr Kelly said.

“They don’t just keep country healthy; they also keep people’s culture and knowledge of country strong.”

The Tjakura rangers’ logo is based on a design by senior Mutitjulu artist Malya Teamay.

The new group will share the protection of five million hectares with the CLC’s Kaltukatjara rangers from the remote border community of Docker River, three hours west of Mutitjulu.

“I’m so happy my team of six will finally be joined by seven new colleagues from Muti,” Kaltukatjara ranger co-ordinator Benji Kenny said.

“We really needed these reinforcements because it’s been a daunting job to look after an IPA (Indigenous Protected Area) of more than 50,000 sq km, an area larger than Denmark or Switzerland, on our own.

“By comparison, the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park inside the IPA covers only just over 1300 sq km and employs more than a dozen non-Aboriginal rangers, plus another dozen non-ranger staff.”

Protecting threatened species

The IPA is an international hot spot for mammal extinctions, with 18 mammals vanishing from the area since European settlement, affected by feral cats and foxes and changes in traditional fire regimes after the Anangu were moved to settlements.

These include the kantilypa or pig-footed bandicoot, tawalpa or crescent nail-tailed wallaby, lesser bilby, and walilya or desert bandicoot.

The Tjakura rangers will help to look after more than 22 surviving native mammal species, 88 reptile species and 147 bird species found on the IPA, including threatened species such as the murtja or brush-tailed mulgara, waru or black-footed rock-wallaby and the princess parrot.

“We use traditional knowledge and skills such as cat tracking and cool season patch burning and combine them with modern tools such as aerial incendiary machines and digital tracking apps to manage these treats,” Mr Kenny said.

“Having two ranger groups look after the IPA means that we’ll be able to double our efforts and involve more community members on a casual basis; for example, to hire more locals to do controlled burns during the upcoming fire season.”

Unique to Australia, IPAs are areas of Aboriginal land that traditional owners voluntarily declare and manage as part of Australia’s National Reserve System funded by the federal Environment Department.