Pungalina-Seven Emu

Pungalina-Seven Emu


Covering over 306,000 hectares (750,000 acres), the vast Pungalina-Seven Emu Wildlife Sanctuary protects an area of extraordinary conservation significance including:

  • over 55 kilometres of pristine coastline on the Gulf of Carpentaria; and
  • more than 100 kilometres of the nationally significant Calvert River.

The property captures a remarkable ecological gradient which extends from the ocean and its adjacent lowland plains to the top of the rugged sandstone plateau which dominates the Gulf region.  Within this gradient lies a rich montage of habitats including coastal rainforest, mangroves, extensive riparian forest, vast eucalypt woodlands, perched wetlands and bubbling thermal springs.

Pungalina-Seven Emu is a refuge for many species that are in sharp decline elsewhere in northern Australia.  In total, it protects over 350 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs, including several species endemic to the Gulf region. 

Importantly, the Pungalina-Seven Emu project represents an historic partnership between AWC and an indigenous landholder, Frank Shadforth and his family. The Seven Emu component of the wildlife sanctuary is aboriginal pastoral land, owned by Frank Shadforth, that is leased to AWC for nearly 30 years. 

Seven Emu is the first parcel of indigenous pastoral land to be leased by a private conservation group, establishing an important new model for conservation on indigenous land (since replicated at Tableland). 

Key vitals

307,224 hectares
Gulf Coastal
40 (est)
Threatened wildlife:


Pungalina-Seven Emu is an important refuge for the declining wildlife of the Gulf of Carpentaria, protecting nearly 50 mammal species, over 200 bird species and over 100 reptiles.  This species inventory does not include marine mammals or pelagic seabirds like boobies, most terns, and frigate birds that are likely to visit the shores of Seven Emu regularly.

A range of threatened species are found on the property including the Gulf Snapping Turtle, the Freshwater Sawfish, the Gouldian Finch, the Beach Thick-knee and the Red Goshawk, as well as sea turtles.  Perhaps most notable is the Carpentarian Pseudantechinus, a nationally threatened small carnivorous marsupial for which Pungalina-Seven Emu appears to be a stronghold.  When a Carpentarian Pseudantechinus was first captured by AWC ecologists in 2009, it was only the 20th individual of the species ever recorded. 

The property also protects Northern Brown Bandicoots, Spectacled Hare-wallabies, Antilopine Wallaroos and other mammal species which, while not yet on the threatened species list, have declined over large parts of northern Australia.  More common species include Short-eared Rock-wallabies, Rock Ringtail Possums, Northern Nailtail Wallabies and Sugar Gliders.  The river supports its own suite of mammals from the Water Rat searching otter-like for invertebrates along the banks to the 3 metre long Dugong feeding on seagrass in the lazy tidal reaches.

The transition from coastal waters to sandstone uplands is mirrored by changes in the resident wildlife community. Mangrove Robins at the coast are replaced by Buff-sided Robins (and Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens) in the freshwater springs along the Calvert River, while crab-eating Collared Kingfishers give way to Red-backed Kingfishers in the savannas. Red-headed Honeyeaters in the coastal mangroves have their place taken by a bevy of other honeyeaters in the woodlands including Banded, White-throated and Grey-fronted Honeyeaters. It is a birdwatcher’s paradise. 

Pungalina and Seven Emu are home to three locally endemic reptile species: the endangered Gulf Snapping Turtle (the Calvert River Snapping Turtles may be a new species) and lesser known species, the Carpentarian Ctenotus and the Borroloola Dtella.

Click below to view the list of wildlife species at Pungalina-Seven Emu:
Mammals List  |  Birds List  |  Reptiles List  |  Amphibians List  |  Threatened List

Measures of success: Ecological Health

AWC is the only conservation organisation to measure, in a robust scientific manner, the ecological health of a network of sanctuaries in Australia.  At Pungalina-Seven Emu, we undertake more than 2,000 live trap nights, 20 site-based vegetation surveys and 20 spotlight surveys each year to measure over 25 ecological health indicators including:

  • The diversity and abundance of key faunal groups such as small to medium sized mammals, seed-eating birds, ground-dwelling reptiles, animals reliant on fleshy-fruited plants and riparian species.
  • The impact of key threats such as fire, feral herbivores, feral predators and weeds.

Our performance against these indicators provides rigorous scientific data which enables us to track the ecological health of Pungalina.  

Ghost Bat

Ghost bats are Australia’s largest micro-bat and are listed nationally as a vulnerable species. They are threatened by habitat destruction, roost disturbance and collisions with barbed wire fences. Since 2016, PhD student Nicola Hanrahan has conducted research on the social dynamics, vocalisations and behavioural responses of the resident Ghost Bat population at Pungalina-Seven Emu. The information gained from this research will allow for more accurate population trends to be determined, provide a greater understanding of threatening processes behind the species decline and inform improved monitoring techniques for this species

Field programs

As the first non-government protected area in the Gulf, the science and land management programs at Pungalina-Seven Emu include a series of ground-breaking initiatives:

  • In 2018 AWC finished the construction of a fence along the coast and up into the escarpment, establishing an 80,000 hectare area that is free of large feral herbivores (cattle, horses, donkeys): this is the only feral herbivore-free section of the coastline in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

  • Active fire management has delivered exceptional results, dramatically reducing the impact of wildfire

  • Pungalina-Seven Emu is the base for a major regional weed management program, supported by the Federal Government. 

General description

Gouldian Finch
Gouldian Finch

Pungalina is perched on the edge of a rugged sandstone plateau, overlooking the vast coastal plains of Seven Emu. The two properties are intimately connected by the powerful Calvert River, which has shaped the Pungalina-Seven Emu landscape for millennia.

On Pungalina, the river has carved a network of deep gorges and dramatic sandstone escarpments. Here, the monsoon rains are collected from across the tropical savanna before tumbling off the plateau and through Seven Emu to meet the salt water of the Gulf of Carpentaria.  Along the way, the river helps define an intricate pattern of habitats which, in turn, supports a diversity of wildlife, including many rare and declining species.  

The Calvert River and its tributaries are re-charged each year by a monsoonal climate, which delivers average annual rainfall of almost 1,000 mm (40 inches).  The rain falls in dramatic storms during a distinct wet season from November to April. During this period, the waterways on Pungalina-Seven Emu rise sharply: dramatic waterfalls are a feature of the rocky escarpment country, while elsewhere rivers and streams break their banks and flood across the landscape.  Roads are often impassable.  This is the season of abundance, when food is plentiful and many animals are dispersing and breeding.  Eventually, the dry season arrives, the water retreats and the focus for many animals returns to the long, clear pools of the Calvert and its tributaries and to the permanent wetlands which form a network of dry season refuges across the landscape.

A series of thermal springs are another feature of the Pungalina landscape. Water bubbles up through the sand to create a unique natural spa.  In addition, there are many deep limestone caves on Pungalina, which provide refuge for bats and other fauna and showcase dramatic stalagmites and other formations. 

Ecosystems and plants

Pungalina and Seven Emu combine to capture a remarkable ecological transect, stretching from the coast to the sandstone uplands of the interior. Along this transect, a complex pattern of different ecosystems showcase the diversity of the Gulf Region.

The beaches along the Seven Emu coast are guarded by She-oaks, while strips of mangrove forest hug the estuaries and waterways.  Tidal flats support an array of waders.  The sand dunes are lined with coastal monsoon rainforest, a rich and rare habitat type which is in remarkably good condition on Seven Emu.  Vetiver grasslands, salt flats and a network of freshwater and brackish lagoons contribute to making the 55 kilometres of coastal strip on Seven Emu biologically and visually outstanding.7EmuCalvertmouthcropped_9923_

The coastal plains support a variety of different woodlands – in particular, belts of Northern Cypress Pine alternate with tall Darwin Stringybark forests on deeper sands, bloodwood and box woodlands, and patches of leathery Broad-leaved Paperbark where the soils are heavier.  Further inland, the ancient sandstone rises closer to the surface and the woodlands become more open.

In places, especially around the edge of the plateau, the sandstone breaks through as heavily weathered and gnarled outcrops studded by Cabbage Palms and Cycads, as well as eucalypts. Perched wetlands on top of the plateau support concentric rings of waterplants, Coolibahs, Northern Swamp Box, and paperbarks.

This ecosystem gradient, from salt to ancient sandstone, sea-level to uplands, is connected by the mighty Calvert River and its tributaries.  The Calvert River cuts its way through the sandstone in a series of deep gorges, creating pockets of dry rainforest and tall riparian forests of River Red Gums and more paperbarks, mixed with Pandanus Palms and Freshwater Mangroves.

AWC ecologists are preparing a detailed habitat map for Pungalina-Seven Emu. However, even in the absence of such a map, we know the range of ecosystems found on Pungalina and Seven Emu is of great conservation significance:

  • Many of the ecosystems on Pungalina-Seven Emu are not protected in any national park.
  • The Calvert River is listed as a ‘Conservation Hotspot’ by the Northern Territory Government.
  • Several ecosystems are considered nationally threatened.

To date, 423 native plant species have been formally identified on the sanctuary; another 100-200 species are likely to be present.

Staff at Pungalina-Seven Emu

Visitor program

It is possible to visit Pungalina-Seven Emu on an Outback Spirit tour - click here for more information.

Outback Spirit are valuable partners of AWC, supporting conservation across our network of sanctuaries. 

General access to Pungalina is otherwise unavailable at this point in time.  Frank Shadforth and his family operate a camp along the Robinson River. For more information go to www.sevenemustation.com.au