AWC celebrates three decades of effective, science-informed conservation
On 2 August, 2021, marks thirty years since the purchase of Karakamia and the start of the AWC story.
Support from generous donors and innovative partnerships with Indigenous groups, governments and landholders, is seeing AWC effectively deliver conservation across 6.5 million hectares of the country. In these remote and iconic regions AWC conserves hundreds of ecosystems that provide refuge for:
- 74 per cent of mainland Australia’s mammal species
- 88 per cent of native bird species
- 55 per cent of reptile species
- 54 per cent of amphibian species
This year we will release our book ‘Australian Wildlife Conservancy: celebrating the first thirty years’ to mark this special occasion. The book is a collection of stories from the AWC family, past and present, providing a window into AWC’s history and a look to the future.
AWC’s first reintroductions
Premier of Western Australia, the Hon Richard Court AC, offically opened Karakamia on 22 December 1994. Backed by the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management, Martin and his team had already released Woylies (Brush-tailed Bettongs, Bettongia penicillata) and Quenda (Isoodon fusciventer) into the sanctuary’s feral predator-free fenced area, and would go on to release a range of threatened mammals including Western Ringtail Possums (Pseudocheirus occidentalis).
These releases into a private fenced wildlife sanctuary were the first of their kind in Western Australia. The success of the program would lead AWC to become a leading proponent of reintroducing threatened mammals to feral predator-free areas across Australia.
Adapting to the challenges of 2020
After the Black Summer fires, AWC was proud to be able to help with the bushfire recovery effort.
AWC ecologists and conservation land managers collaborated with local landowners and partners to assist with camera trap surveys to assess and monitor surviving wildlife, fence construction and cat trapping to protect animals from this significant threat, and Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) translocations to secure populations that were displaced. AWC was also invited to join an expert panel to provide advice to the Federal Government on how to effectively protect and restore wildlife impacted by the bushfires.
In this same year, COVID-19 erupted and restrictions meant that the implementation of many programs had to change. Despite the incredible challenges, the commitment of AWC staff and the flexibility and financial robustness of the AWC model enabled the continued delivery of conservation action.
In 2020, AWC’s conservation land managers maintained fire management, feral animal and weed control programs, including the delivery of fire management across 7 million hectares of northern Australia.
AWC ecologists reintroduced Red-tailed Phascogales (Phascogale calura) to Central Australia and Greater Stick-nest Rats (Leporillus conditor) and Numbats (Myrmecobius fasciatus) to NSW National Parks. Together, AWC land managers and ecologists undertook more than 250,000 trap nights and camera traps nights across the country.
New sanctuary rises from the ashes
In the immediate aftermath of the Black Summer (2019-2020) bushfires, AWC commenced working with Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife and local landowners the Doube family to protect the Kangaroo Island Dunnart (Sminthopsis aitkeni). The entire known range of this small marsupial was impacted by the bushfires and the future of the species was uncertain.
Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, the Doube family and AWC constructed a 13.8-hectare fenced critical refuge around remnant habitat where the Dunnarts had been detected. The Australian Army provided crucial assistance by clearing 1.7 kilometres of fence line prior to construction.
In February of 2021, the 369-hectare Western River Refuge on Kangaroo Island was launched by South Australian Minister for Environment and Water, David Speirs, securing a larger fenced haven for ecosystem recovery.
The Western River Refuge protects a suite of other threatened species including the Kangaroo Island Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), Heath Goanna (Varanus rosenbergi), Bassian Thrush (Zoothera lunulata) and Western Whipbird (Psophodes nigrogularis lashmari). Since its construction, adult and juvenile Dunnarts have been detected throughout the protected area and a young female was captured during routine monitoring.
Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation (WAC) and AWC enter into an innovative partnership
WAC and AWC entered into an innovative and ambitious partnership, working collaboratively across 1.73 million hectares of the north-west Kimberley to enhance conservation science and land management in the region.
Within this area, WAC and AWC work together to enhance WAC management programs, consistent with the Wilinggin Healthy Country Plan. Wiliggin’s Wungurr Rangers have been working with Ngarinyin Traditional Owners for more than a decade to protect the cultural and natural values of the Willinggin Indigenous Protected Area.
Together, WAC and AWC aim to maintain, and where possible increase, populations of threatened species on Wilinggin Country.
Using cutting-edge technology to improve science programs
AWC, in partnership with Microsoft, launched a research program using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to support AWC’s nationwide conservation programs.
A key focus has been developing an AI program that auto-detects animals in camera trap photos.
The results have delivered substantial gains in efficiency when processing camera trap images, as it automates much of the process. AWC continues to improve this AI model and to explore other forms of technological innovation as a means to increase effectiveness in the field.
Extending AWC’s conservation model to pastoral land
At Bullo River Station, AWC and Bullo River’s owners, Julian and Alexandra Burt, entered into partnership to deliver science and conservation land management on a working cattle station.
The partnership protects a suite of threatened species in the area, and demonstrates that conservation outcomes can be achieved in tandem with a commercial and sustainable cattle operation.
The partnership has the potential to act as a catalytic model for wider application on commercial pastoral land.
Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation (DAC) and AWC partner to conserve Dambimangari Country
DAC and AWC established a groundbreaking partnership, working hand-in-hand to deliver conservation land management (fire management, feral animal control and weed eradication) and science programs, in keeping with Dambimangari Healthy Country Plan.
Dambimangari Country sits at the heart of the north-west Kimberley and is a refuge for mammal species that have disappeared from other parts of northern Australia, including the Golden-backed Tree Rat (Mesembriomys macrurus) and the Golden Bandicoot (Isoodon auratus).
The partnership represents a new template for conservation on Indigenous land and enables Dambimangari Traditional Owners to generate an income for delivering measurable conservation outcomes. Key to the success of the DAC-AWC partnership is the recognition of the importance of mutual and respectful exchange of culture, Aboriginal knowledge, ecological understanding and contemporary science.
Historic partnership with NSW Government to establish feral predator-free areas in NSW national parks
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and AWC established a historic public-private partnership, under which AWC is contracted to deliver land management services in the iconic Pilliga State Conservation Area and Mallee Cliffs National Park.
The centrepiece of this exciting partnership is the reintroduction of at least 11 threatened and locally extinct mammal species into two massive feral predator-free areas, as part of the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program.
At Mallee Cliffs National Park, AWC has established a 9,570 hectare feral predator-free area – the largest on mainland Australia. This project with the NSW Government represents one of Australia’s most ambitious rewildling programs.
Working with the military to conserve biodiversity
AWC entered into an historic contract with the Department of Defence to deliver science and conservation land management at Yampi Sound Training Area (YSTA) – Australia’s second largest military training area.
YSTA is a hotspot for endangered and endemic wildlife, covering over 568,000 hectares of the western Kimberley. Central to the partnership is the involvement of Dambimangari People, Yampi’s Traditional Owners.
The partnership between a private conservation organisation and the military is the first of its kind in Australia, and provides a template for managing biodiversity values on military land around the world.