Spanning over 58,000 hectares in western New South Wales, Mallee Cliffs National Park contains one of the largest feral-proof fences in the southern hemisphere, and is the site of a groundbreaking mammal reintroduction program. Protecting regionally significant examples of vegetation communities that were formerly abundant in the region, from Spinifex covered sand dunes to old-growth Mallee woodlands, the park provides key habitat for several iconic threatened species.
Mallee Cliffs National Park is managed under a historic partnership between the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and AWC. The agreement provides an exciting, new model for collaboration between the public and private (not-for-profit) sector. A feature of the partnership is the establishment of a 9,570 hectare feral predator-free fenced area within the national park, and the reintroduction of 10 regionally extinct mammal species.
Mallee Cliffs National Park is located about 30 kilometres from Mildura, in the south-west of NSW. Established as a national park in 1977, Mallee Cliffs covers 57,969 hectares of open grassy plains, spinifex covered dunes, Belah woodlands and old-growth Mallee. These habitats protect a diverse range of threatened and declining species, giving the park significant conservation value.
In partnership with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS, AWC has constructed a 37.2 kilometre feral predator-proof fence within Mallee Cliffs National Park, creating a 9,570 hectare exclosure of ecologically significant bushland which, once cleared of predators, will be home to at least 10 regionally extinct mammal species as part of an ambitious rewilding program. The program began in October 2019 with the release of the Greater Bilby into a 480 hectare, specially-designed breeding zone.
The park is located in a semi-arid zone where the annual rainfall is highly variable, and the summers are extremely hot, with a maximum recorded temperature of 50.7° Celsius. There are no permanent streams or natural water bodies within the national park.
Mallee Cliffs protects two primary vegetation communities typical of the region, Mallee woodlands and Belah-Rosewood woodland. The dominant Mallee species are Yorrell, White Mallee and Red Mallee, and some of the woodland is characterised by a spinifex understorey. Small areas of the park have been impacted by historic grazing practices during the park’s previous life as a pastoral property. The park last experienced major wildfires in 1975 and 1977 and, since then, there have been no fires aside from some minor prescribed burns. Many vegetation communities within the park are now sufficiently mature to provide important habitat for a range of threatened species.
The array of different habitats at Mallee Cliffs support a diverse range of species, and are an important stronghold for many that are threatened or declining.
In October 2019, AWC in partnership with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) commenced a reintroduction program at Mallee Cliffs National Park with the hope of restoring six locally-extinct species to a 9,570 hectare feral predator-free fenced area.
The Bilby was the first locally-extinct species to go into Mallee Cliffs in October 2019. This was followed up the return of 40 Greater Stick-nest Rats (GSNR) in September 2020. In December of 2020, the Bilby and Greater Stick-nest Rat were joined by 15 Numbats from AWC’s Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary.
The following September, 54 Woylies (Brush-tailed Bettongs) completed a cross-border journey for a special reintroduction to NSW, after going extinct in the state by the late 1800’s. A total of 54 individuals were translocated from AWC’s Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in WA, joining 16 fellow Woylies which were released in the initial stage of the reintroduction in late August from AWC’s Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary in south-west NSW.
In November 2021, AWC and NPWS with Alice Springs Desert Park, returned 60 locally extinct Red-tailed Phascogales from a two and a half year captive breeding program. This population was supplemented by a further 14 individuals in early 2022 from Adelaide Zoo.
A further 20 Numbats were released into pre-selected hollow logs in December of 2021.
In April and July 2022, AWC and NPWS reintroduced the Mitchell’s Hopping Mouse to Mallee Cliffs, the sixth species restored to the national park. A total of 155 mice were collected from a breeding program at Monarto Zoo operated by Zoos SA and released into Mallee Cliff’s feral predator-free area.
Other endangered mammals will soon join the species in the feral predator-free area including the Western Quoll, Western Barred Bandicoot, Bridled Nailtail Wallaby, Burrowing Bettong and Brush-tailed Bettong. Most of these species have been absent from NSW national parks for over 90 years – and nearly all are threatened with extinction across their entire range. Their return to Mallee Cliffs will help to secure their future and restore a number of important ecological processes that are vital for maintaining a healthy landscape, such as dispersing seeds and spores, and helping to retain nutrients and water in the soil.
Despite having lost almost all its small and medium sized mammals, primarily as a result of predation by feral cats and foxes, and extensive land-clearing in the region, Mallee Cliffs retains regionally significant populations of Southern Ningaui and the Western Pygmy Possum.
The park is a hotspot for birdwatching, where you can spot threatened birds such as Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo and the Hooded Robin, and hear the songs of the Gilbert’s Whistler and Varied Sittella through the Mallee. Mallee Cliffs also contains important habitat for the endangered Malleefowl.
The land management strategy being implemented at Mallee Cliffs involves management of fire regimes that will restore and maintain key habitats, weed control, and landscape-scale removal of feral animals.
Most significantly, Mallee Cliffs is the site of a significant rewilding program in partnership with the NSW government, involving the establishment of a large feral predator-free area, followed by at least 10 threatened mammal reintroductions.
AWC field ecologists will measure the ecological health of Mallee Cliffs over time, as we do with all our sanctuaries. This will inform our land management strategies, and indicate the success of the reintroduction program. In particular, we will be measuring:
The Malleefowl is a large ground-dwelling bird and one of only three mound-building bird species in Australia.
The Greater Stick-nest Rat is a guinea pig-sized native rodent which builds a large communal home out of sticks and stones.
The Numbat is unique among Australian mammals. It is a highly specialised, termite eating marsupial. AWC protects Numbat populations within...
Since European settlement, the impact of feral predators, habitat loss and feral herbivores on the mammal fauna of the Murray Darling basin has been significant. In western NSW, almost half of all mammal species (excluding bats) have disappeared. Because of the ongoing predation threat of foxes and cats, fenced areas are currently the only option for preventing further extinctions. Although they are not a long-term solution, they can significantly increase the populations of endangered species, and have been hugely successful at AWC’s Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary in western NSW.