Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary is one of Australia’s largest non-government protected areas, offering beautiful scenery and a diverse mix of arid habitats. It is a renowned birdwatching destination, and is a hotspot for central Australian wildlife.
Covering almost 262,000 hectares, and located near the intersection of three central Australian bioregions, Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary is one of Australia’s largest non-government protected areas. The scenery on the property is spectacular, with extensive sand dunes and salt lakes overlooked by dramatic quartzite ranges. Protecting areas of mulga woodlands, spinifex sandplains, bloodwood and desert oak, Newhaven is a hotspot for the wildlife of central Australia. Threatened species include the Black-footed Rock-wallaby, the Brush-tailed Mulgara and an important population of the Great Desert Skink.
The rugged ranges, salt lakes and sand plains of Newhaven are the traditional lands of the Ngalia-Warlpiri/Luritja people. A historic native title consent determination in 2010 recognised the Ngalia-Warlpiri/Luritja people as the traditional owners of Newhaven. Members of the local Indigenous community are actively involved in Newhaven’s management, participating in AWC’s delivery of major land management and science programs such as fire management, feral animal control, ecological health surveys and wildlife translocations.
Newhaven is renowned as a key arid zone bird watching destination. Supporting 180 species of birds, the property was originally purchased by Birdlife Australia before being transferred to AWC in 2006.
Newhaven is the site of the planet’s largest feral cat eradication project, involving the establishment of a massive feral cat-free area that will ultimately protect up to 100,000 hectares from feral predators. The project is of global biodiversity significance – the first stage (9,450 hectares) creates a refuge for wild populations of at least 10 nationally threatened mammal species that have begun to be restored here.
The property encompasses an incredible range of landforms and habitat types. The southern section is characterised by a vast expanse of parallel sand dunes, and further north lies an extensive system of salt lakes along an ancient drainage line which runs from east to west across the property, culminating at Yunkanjini (Lake Bennet). The salt lakes rarely contain water, filling only after flooding rains. In the north eastern corner of Newhaven, bluff-edged ranges rise to 800 metres above the plains, and Black-footed Rock-wallabies survive among the rugged boulders and gorges.
Each of these landforms supports its own diverse range of plant communities that vary in response to topography, soil, and fire history. Newhaven sits near the junction of three bioregions, giving it a rich diversity of habitats. Broad vegetation mapping has identified at least 23 different ecosystems, all of which are either threatened, or poorly protected within the government national park system. Over 600 plant species have been confirmed on the property, including 5 that are classified as threatened in the NT.
Spinifex sandplains dominate the landscape, broken up by shimmering salt lakes fringed with unique communities of salt-adapted plants. Elsewhere, the property features large areas of bloodwood, dunefields dotted with majestic desert oaks, and calcrete grasslands with majestic ghost gums. In the north, run-off from the dramatic quartzite ranges supports small but significant patches of mulga woodland.
Newhaven lies in the arid zone of central Australia. It receives most of its rainfall in the summer months, but there are high levels of spatial and temporal variability in rainfall across the region. Decadal cycles of below average rainfall (El Niño) are broken by extremely high rainfall events, leading to the evolution of a suite of flora and fauna specially adapted to these boom and bust cycles.
The range and quality of habitats across Newhaven protect a stunning diversity of arid zone birdlife. In the rugged quartzite ranges are Grey Shrike Thrush, Painted Finches, Dusky Grasswren and Spinifex Birds. Princess Parrots feed within the dunefields during their nomadic desert flights to the east. Other arid zone specialist species include the Banded Whiteface, Grey Falcon, Rufus-crowned Emu-wren, Slaty-backed Thornbill, Grey Honeyeater and the Redthroat.
The mammal fauna of Newhaven is also exceptional. The MacDonnell Ranges race of the Black-footed Rock-wallaby, which is now absent from Uluru and Kata Tjuta and declining elsewhere, is still present on the quartzite ranges of Newhaven. Other threatened mammals include a significant population of the Brush-tailed Mulgara, the Southern Marsupial Mole and a range of native rodents and small marsupials such as the carnivorous Fat-tailed False Antechinus. Newhaven lies within the former range of at least ten other endangered mammals, and AWC plans to reintroduce many of them over the coming years with the Mala (Rufous Hare-wallaby), Red-tailed Phascogale, Brush-tailed Bettong (known by the Warlpiri name ‘Pututjurru’), Burrowing Bettong (known by the Warlpiri name ‘Purdaya’), Greater Bilby (known by the Warlpiri name ‘Ninu’), and Central Rock-rat having already been reintroduced since 2017.
There are over 80 species of reptiles at the sanctuary, including one of Australia’s smallest goannas (the Short-tailed Pygmy Goanna) and our largest (Perentie). Notably, Newhaven protects the largest known population of the nationally threatened Great Desert Skink.
Populations of small mammals boom during the wetter years, when a network of ephemeral lakes become breeding sites for migratory birds. Burrowing frogs that have been lying dormant under the sand waiting for rain, also emerge at this time.
Australia’s mammal fauna has suffered a high rate of extinction since European colonisation, with 10% of species extinct and another 20% threatened with extinction. Introduced predators – feral cats and foxes – are a primary driver of extinctions of native small- to medium-sized mammals. These losses have been particularly severe in arid Australia, with up to 30 mammal species lost from some localities. Newhaven’s ambitious reintroduction program aims to address this.
AWC’s reintroduction program at Newhaven began with the Mala in 2017, an urgent intervention triggered by a substantial decline in the Watarrka National Park insurance population. Working with the Northern Territory Government, AWC undertook an emergency translocation of 27 Mala to Newhaven. Since then, AWC has carried out two further reintroductions, transferring 34 Mala from Scotia in 2018 and 9 individuals from Alice Springs Desert Park in 2019. In 2020, the last of the Mala from AWC’s Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary were restored to their historical range in Australia’s red centre – marking the final round of AWC’s planned Mala releases into Newhaven’s fenced area.
That same year 29 Red-tailed Phascogales were reintroduced in June, followed by another 61 sub-adults in November and a further 25 adults in April 2021.
In August of 2021, AWC celebrated 30 years of effective conservation work with the successful reintroduction of 44 Brush-tailed Bettongs from our Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in the WA Wheatbelt region, with a further 26 released in October that same year.
The year 2022 was monumental for reintroductions to Newhaven with three locally-extinct species returning to the sanctuary – the Greater Bilby, Burrowing Bettong and Central Rock-rat.
The Greater Bilby kicked off 2022’s reintroductions in May, when 32 individuals were reintroduced to the sanctuary from Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo and another 34 from Currawinya National Park in Queensland. In the same month, 65 Burrowing Bettongs were reintroduced to Newhaven with 25 individuals flying in from Matuwa Kurrara Kurrara Indigenous Protected Area, located on Martu Country in the northern Goldfields of Western Australia, and another 40 flying in from Scotia (NSW) and Yookamurra Wildlife Sanctuary (SA).
The critically endangered Central-rock Rat rounded off Newhaven’s 2022 reintroductions when a total of 58 individuals were reintroduced from sites across Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park. The bold five-night operation took place in the last week of July and in collaboration with Traditional Owners and the Northern Territory Government’s Flora and Fauna Division.
AWC is now planning reintroductions of other important marsupials; including Golden Bandicoots (known by the Warlpiri name ‘Pakuru’). In the coming years, AWC plans to expand the already vast 9,450-hectare feral predator-free safe-haven to protect a colossal 100,000 hectares. This project is a globally important conservation initiative that will see species saved and biodiversity restored in central Australia.
The effective conservation land management program at Newhaven serves as a model for central Australia. We support an Indigenous ranger group, who work closely with staff on fire management, predator eradication and general sanctuary management, and there is a high level of scientific activity on the property. The focuses of the field programs include:
Wildlife in central Australia is threatened primarily by feral cats and foxes, coupled with the impact of destructive wildfires. Severe summer wildfires that burn across large areas are a major threat to biodiversity, as they often leave no vegetation unburnt, providing no habitat or food for wildlife. AWC’s fire management strategy aims to establish a mosaic of burnt and unburnt vegetation across the landscape to reduce the impact of large severe fires. Feral predators are a leading cause for the disappearance of many small-medium sized mammals in Australia. AWC is working on developing landscape-scale strategies for their removal.