Volunteers’ resilience pays off with resurgence of rare rock-wallaby

Located in the stunning South Australian Ikara-Flinders Ranges, an area of land that was used as a pastoral lease property for nearly a century and a sheep station for another forty years is now a flourishing private conservation reserve – and it’s all thanks to the work of passionate volunteers. Years spent controlling feral goats, foxes and cats and efforts to restore native fauna and flora to its former glory have paid off, with the Bunkers Conservation Reserve now home to healthy colonies of the vulnerable Yellow-footed Rock-Wallaby (Petrogale xanthopus xanthopus).

The Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby Preservation Association is the proud overseers of the Bunkers, located five hours from Adelaide and under an hour from the popular tourist destination of Wilpena Pound. Covering around 140 square kilometres of rugged and spectacular country, the property provides a snapshot of South Australia’s unique outback, encompassing an old barites mine and the majestic Mount Caernarvon.

A group of SSAA South Australia Conservation and Wildlife Management volunteers came across the land during their involvement in the successful state government Operation Bounceback project, a broad-scale conservation initiative that saw an incredible 30,000 goats removed from the north Finders and Gammon Ranges. The preservation group was formed in 1997 following the discovery of remnants of a Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby colony, with the property officially purchased in 2001.

Today, it is the return of native vegetation and wildlife that has thrilled members of the Association – in particular, the establishment of wallaby colonies throughout the property. Vice president Kaz Herbst said the Association has been working towards making the Bunkers financially self-sustainable, with the sensational Caernarvon 4WD Track self-drive tour currently operational.

“In regard to Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby populations, they actually spread with population increase and establishment of new colonies and their spread has been observed all over the reserve,” Kaz said. “The Association is working on establishing a population monitoring program as the original state government helicopter-based transects survey ceased in about 2012.”

To restore and preserve the property for future generations, members of the Association conduct on-ground shooting activities to remove feral and pest animals from the area. In 2017, at least 110 feral goats were removed by ground shooting, while aerial shooting by the state government culled 104 goats earlier in the year. Two cats have been reported with no sightings of foxes, confirming the success of the baiting program. Around ten rabbits have been opportunistically shot, and a few warrens have been blocked off, but a warren location and destruction program still needs to be carried out. Weed control is also on the agenda.

Association President Gil Hartwig pointed out some of the unique features of the property, including Skull Rock, the second largest calcious outflow in the southern hemisphere and the Australian home of the “Phantom”. The Ikara-Flinders Ranges is also home to the western quoll (Dasyurus geoffroii), with the spotted mammal recently reintroduced following years of absence from the area. SSAA National generously donated $60,000 to this important project.

For more information about the Caernarvon 4WD Track self-drive tour and the activities of the Association, visit www.caernarvontrack.com.

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