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Recognised as a showcase for conservation in northern Australia, Mornington and Marion Downs protect almost 6,000 square kilometres of the iconic Kimberley region. Bounded to the south by the rugged King Leopold Range, the properties contain some of Australia’s most spectacular scenery. Massive mesas and dramatic sandstone escarpments overlook vast savanna woodlands, while a network of tropical rivers, including the Fitzroy River, carve deep gorges through the ancient landscape.
Straddling the transition between the tropical north Kimberley and the drier deserts to the south, Mornington and Marion Downs capture a high diversity of wildlife including critically important populations of threatened species such as the Gouldian Finch, the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren and Northern Quoll.
The WildlifeLink Research Centre at Mornington is our base for operations in the Kimberley, hosting AWC land managers and field ecologists all year round. From here, we co-ordinate the EcoFire project, delivering fire management across 13 properties (4 million hectares). Mornington Wilderness Camp provides a unique visitor experience during the dry season.
Mornington-Marion Downs is a stronghold for many species that are rapidly disappearing elsewhere across northern Australia. Of particular note, AWC’s land management at Mornington has delivered an increase in the population of small native mammals, such as Pale Field Rats, which are in severe decline elsewhere in the north.
The mammal fauna at Mornington-Marion Downs (38 species) features a range of small marsupials and native rodents including the Ningbing Pseudantechinus, which is endemic to the Kimberley. There is a stable population of the nationally endangered Northern Quoll as well as a suite of macropods such as the majestic Antilopine Wallaroo and the elusive Northern Nailtail Wallaby. Mornington’s Dingo population is the subject of long-term research on the role of dingoes in reducing the impact of feral cats.
AWC is the only conservation organisation to measure in a robust scientific manner the ecological health of a network of sanctuaries. At Mornington-Marion Downs, we undertake more than 6,000 trap nights each year to measure more than 20 ecological health indicators including:
Our performance against these indicators provide rigorous scientific data which enables us to track the ecological health of Mornington-Marion Downs.
We measure the species diversity of dragons and skinks because they are a good indicator of the health of the ground-layer at Mornington-Marion Downs. Between 2005 – 2012, the average number of species at each of our monitoring sites increased significantly.
The Purple-crowned Fairy-wren is a nationally threatened bird which inhabits only riparian vegetation. It is sensitive to disturbance from fire and feral herbivores and is therefore a good indicator of the health of riparian ecosystems. The graph illustrates the significant increase in recent years in Annie CK-Adcock River population.
The science and land management program at Mornington-Marion Downs is a model for conservation in northern Australia:
Mornington-Marion Downs is Australia's second largest non-government protected area, covering nearly 6,000 km2 of the central Kimberley Bioregion. This Bioregion encompasses the lower half of the Kimberley basin, an ancient landscape created initially by heavy marine sedimentation around 2 billion years ago. The spectacular King Leopold Ranges form the southern boundary of the property. North of these ranges, the property is characterised by massive, steep-sided mesas which stand like giant guardians over the rolling savannas.
The Baulk Face Range dominates the central part of the sanctuary. This giant mesa is roughly 30 km in diameter and rises about 150 m above the adjacent terrain. Fitzroy Bluff is a taller but smaller (about 10 km long) mesa in the southern portion of the sanctuary, surrounded by the Sir John Range to the East and Lady Forrest Range to the west. The Phillips Range, on Marion Downs, features a beautiful valley of Boabs surrounded by dramatic sandstone cliffs.
The dominant habitat of Mornington is tropical savannah: there are a large number of savannah types on the property. The savannah grasslands are lightly sprinkled with stands of low eucalypts, Kimberley Bauhinia, Acacias, Boabs and native Kapok. On the sandstone ranges and uplands, the savannah grades into very open woodlands with a spinifex understorey. The margins of creeks and rivers are lined with thick riparian vegetation, including pandanus palms, plum trees and river red gums. Pockets of Livistona palms and rainforest thrive in the gullies of the ranges and mesas.
AWC is preparing a detailed habitat map of the property. Based on the WA Government’s broad-scale existing mapping, the properties contain more than 20 savannah types, many of which are not represented in any Government National Parks.
The WildlifeLink Conservation and Research Centre at Mornington is the base for our Kimberley operations and science team. The science team is led by Dr Katherine Tuft, our Regional Ecologist (north-west). The land management team, including the Gowaja Rangers (comprising traditional owners), is led by Toby Barton. During the dry season, the Wilderness Camp staff team are also based at Mornington.
In addition to permanent staff, there are a number of students, interns and long-term volunteers who assist in delivering the science and land management program at Mornington
Mornington Wilderness Camp provides a comfortable base from which to explore this remarkable sanctuary. Relax and soak up the atmosphere with a few nights in the semi-permanent safari tents, which overlook Annie Creek, or pitch your own tent in the shady campground. In the evenings, dine under the stars at the bush bar and licensed restaurant.
As a non-profit entity, all proceeds from the Wilderness Camp are dedicated to the conservation of wildlife.
Nature lovers can indulge in various guided and self-guided tours. From birdwatching to exploring habitats unique to the Kimberley, there is something for everyone. Popular activities include canoeing down Dimond Gorge and swimming and exploring Sir John Gorge.
For the adventurous traveller, this is a unique opportunity to experience one of Australia’s leading wilderness camps while also helping to save Australia’s endangered wildlife.
Mornington Wildnerness Camp is open from 1 May - 10 October 2016. For more information and to make a reservation click here.