Bet­ter fu­ture for rock wal­la­bies

Pilbara News - - News - Tom Zaun­mayr

Sit­ting on a small ledge half­way up a 20m cliff face, a baby no more than a few weeks old pokes its head out of home to get a glimpse of its sur­round­ings.

It is a spec­tac­u­lar sight — deep red gorge walls sur­round it and an abun­dance of green­ery sits below the blue sky — but one fraught with dan­ger, and not be­cause of the pre­car­i­ous place its mother has de­cided to call home.

This joey pho­tographed in Mandu Mandu Gorge is one of the new­est ad­di­tions to Cape Range Na­tional Park’s black-flanked rock wallaby pop­u­la­tion, and if it sur­vives child­hood it will be an­other big tick for the Depart­ment of Parks and Wildlife’s ef­forts to save the species from ex­tinc­tion.

With such a small pop­u­la­tion — it is es­ti­mated there are only be­tween 200 to 250 in Cape Range as well as iso­lated pop­u­la­tions else­where in WA — ev­ery new birth is an im­por­tant step in the right di­rec­tion.

For the rock wallaby, sur­viv­ing child­hood pro­tected in their mother’s pouch is the easy part.

They are at home on the seem­ingly un­scal­able cliff walls, which dou­ble as pro­tec­tion from po­ten­tial preda­tors, and the high tem­per­a­tures ex­pe­ri­enced in the re­gion.

The real bat­tle be­gins when they leave the pouch. Birds of prey are their nat­u­ral preda­tors and live in abun­dance in Cape Range.

In­tro­duced pests are of most con­cern, though, as they tip the bal­ance of na­ture un­nat­u­rally against the wallaby.

DPaW Ex­mouth con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer Brooke Halk­yard said cats and foxes were key threats, but com­pe­ti­tion for food and shel­ter with feral goats was also a con­cern.

“At the time of Euro­pean set­tle­ment, black-flanked rock wal­la­bies were patchily dis­trib­uted across the western half of Aus­tralia,” she said.

“Sadly, they are now found in only a few scat­tered lo­ca­tions and re­main­ing pop­u­la­tions are con­sid­ered to be at risk of ex­tinc­tion.

“The depart­ment’s reg­u­lar bait­ing and culling op­er­a­tions al­low hope for an op­ti­mistic fu­ture for the Cape Range rock wal­la­bies and other na­tive an­i­mals.

“Rig­or­ous mon­i­tor­ing is un­der­taken by Parks and Wildlife in col­lab­o­ra­tion with com­mu­nity groups, vol­un­teers and com­mer­cial tour oper­a­tors. In the years to come, it is hoped the re­sults will re­veal a species mov­ing ever fur­ther from the brink of ex­tinc­tion.”

On a Sal Salis Eco Re­sort tour taken late last year by the Pil­bara News, it was men­tioned that good rains had aided re­cov­ery ef­forts in re­cent years, lead­ing to an abun­dance of food for the black-flanked rock wallaby.

In­deed dozens of wal­la­bies, some with joeys, were pointed out by the tour guide in and around Mandu Mandu Gorge, lead­ing to many oblig­a­tory “awws” from the cap­ti­vated crowd.

Out­side Cape Range, two black-flanked rock wal­la­bies were spot­ted in Kal­barri Na­tional Park last year, decades af­ter it was be­lieved they had been wiped out.

Sev­eral places, such as Bar­row Is­land, the Calvert Ranges, Sal­is­bury Is­land, and a few lo­ca­tions in the Wheat­belt house rock wallaby pop­u­la­tions of vary­ing sizes.

Pop­u­la­tions have also been translo­cated to Cape Le Grande and Avon Val­ley Na­tional Parks, as well as the Durba Hills and Paruna Sanc­tu­ary.

It is hoped with con­tin­ued vig­i­lant pro­tec­tion mea­sures against in­va­sive species, the Cape Range pop­u­la­tion can one day thrive be­cause the wallaby is an en­dear­ing WA lo­cal too cute to lose from this world.

The gorges of Cape Range Na­tional Park are a haven for rock wal­la­bies.

A black-flanked rock wallaby joey sticks its head out of its moth­ers pouch in Mandu Mandu Gorge.

The wallaby in Mandu Mandu Gorge.

Pic­tures: Tom Zaun­mayr

A tour group from Sal Salis on the look­out for rock wal­la­bies in Mandu Mandu Gorge.

Feral an­i­mals but pres­sure on black-flanked rock wal­la­bies.

A black-flanked rock wallaby.

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