Charnley River-Artesian Range has a vital role to play in protecting and restoring the endangered wildlife of northern Australia.
A ground-breaking partnership between AWC and Australian Capital Equity is set to deliver a win for conservation and the regional economy in Australia’s remote Kimberley region. AWC is subleasing a portion of Charnley River to ACE, and we have also sold them our Brahman cattle herd. Cattle will be excluded from key river systems on the property, and we are collaborating on fire management, feral animal control and weed control. The deal is part of a broader collaboration between AWC and ACE, and allows AWC to focus on conservation in the area whilst improving the sustainability of the cattle operation.
The Artesian Range is located adjacent to the Kimberley coast, in the heart of one of Australia’s most rugged and inaccessible regions. The area is home to more than 30 animal species that are found nowhere else in Australia, either because they have disappeared from the rest of their range (like the Golden-backed Tree-rat) or because they are endemic to the north Kimberley (like the Monjon and the Black Grasswren).
Bounded by the Charnley and Isdell Rivers, the area is a maze of spectacular sandstone ranges dissected by deep, rainforest-filled gorges. This rugged topography and high rainfall appear to have limited the impacts of feral herbivores, feral cats and wildfire. Visiting the Artesian Range is like stepping back in time – it is perhaps the only region on mainland Australia where there have been no faunal extinctions since European settlement. With most areas accessible only by helicopter, the Artesian Range is managed by AWC staff based at Charnley River Station and Mornington. Charnley River Pastoral Station (operated by AWC) is 300,000 hectares and includes the Artesian Range.
The Sanctuary sits within the biodiverse North Kimberley Bioregion, and supports a rich variety of habitats including rainforest pockets, savannah woodlands, semi-deciduous vine-thickets, mangroves, salt flats and inland wetlands. It is estimated to host more than 1,000 plant species, with initial fieldwork uncovering a large number of threatened and endemic plants, as well as a number of undescribed species.
The northern part of the property comprises the extremely rugged sandstone of the Artesian Ranges, while in the eastern and southern section the landscape is dominated by savannah woodlands of mixed geology, including large areas of basalt-derived soils. On the north-western boundary, where the Charnley River drains into Walcott Inlet, a swathe of mangroves and mudflats adds further diversity to the sanctuary.
The Artesian Range contains a unique assemblage of fauna and protects a remarkable number of threatened species, making it one of Australia’s last great wildlife havens. Even endangered species like the Northern Quoll survive in high densities.
The area is home to many animals found nowhere else in Australia – 11 threatened species and 29 species that are either endemic or have isolated Kimberley populations have so far been confirmed as present on the Artesian Range Sanctuary. It is a hotspot for mammals found only in the Kimberley such as the Wyulda (Scaly-tailed Possum), the Monjon (the smallest rock-wallaby species) and the Kimberley Rock-rat. It contains endemic birds such as the cryptic Black Grasswren and the Kimberley Honeyeater, as well as endemic reptiles like the Rough-scaled Python, Kimberley Crevice Skink and several species of gecko.
The Artesian Range and surrounds are a vital last refuge for species that are now extinct in large parts of their former range. The area is a stronghold for species such as the Golden-backed Tree-rat and the Golden Bandicoot which have disappeared from the rest of their distribution, including national parks such as Kakadu. For these and other species, this strip of the Kimberley coast could be the difference between extinction and survival. The factors that influence the ongoing survival of these species in the Artesian Range is the focus of long-term research.
The science and land management program at the Artesian Range includes:
AWC’s Charnley River-Artesian Range Wildlife Sanctuary protects a vitally important population of the Golden-backed Tree-rat.
The Golden Bandicoot is a ground dwelling marsupial that is largely nocturnal and solitary.
The Scaly-tailed Possum is one of only three species of possum that shelter exclusively in rocks.
Wildfires that occur in the late dry season are a major threat to biodiversity in the Kimberley. If not managed, they can burn at high intensity across areas as large as 1 million hectares, and leave no patches of unburnt habitat. AWC manages fire at Artesian Range as part of the EcoFire project, the largest non-government fire management program in Australia.
Introduced herbivores and predators are also a threat to the fauna of the northern Kimberley. Preliminary research, including extensive camera trap surveys, suggests that the density of feral cats in the Artesian Range is lower than the central Kimberley, and AWC continues to monitor their impact.