The last ‘lost world’…The Australian Kimberley

The last refuge

December 3, 2011

The Kimberley

Nicky Phillips and Nick Moir travelled to The Kimberley to look at the Artesian range.

Great extinctions have blighted Australia since European settlement but Nicky Phillips finds a small sanctuary still thriving in the isolated splendour of the Kimberley region.

“No one is allowed to sleep until we find it.” Ecologist Dr James Smith is half joking but the force of his voice suggests he is determined, even a bit desperate.

For the past two weeks he has been scouring the tree canopies and sun-baked rock ledges of a remote region of the north-west Kimberley for the elusive rough-scaled python.

There have been fewer than 20 reported sightings of the python, whose habitat is confined to this small fringe of northern Australia, since it was first described in the 1980s.

Ecologist Sarah Legge in a spectacular part of the Artesian Range.Running wild … Sarah Legge in the Artesian Range sanctuary, also above. Photo: Nick Moir

To Smith, the snake represents more than an ecologist’s trump card; it is one of almost 50 reptiles, mammals and birds found nowhere else in the world but for this small pocket of Western Australia.

The north-west Kimberley is now the only area of mainland Australia where no mammal, and quite possibly no plant, has become extinct since white settlement.

The local inhabitants are not all that makes the region remarkable. For two decades, it has become a refuge for almost all northern Australia’s small mammals that have been pushed out of native habitats across the top of the continent.

A team of Ecologists at their base camp in The Artesian Range in The Kimberly's in WA. The Artesian Range. Photo: Nick Moir

This lost world, largely inaccessible to humans without a helicopter, has become a modern-day Noah’s Ark on a landscape with the world’s worst animal extinction rate.

While the region’s remoteness means the populations of many species remain abundant, the broader Kimberley faces a variety of threats.

Fire, feral cats and wild herbivores will push up to eight kinds of mammals to extinction in the next 20 years if business as usual continues. And the populations of a dozen or more species will continue their steep decline.

A Quoll.Feisty – but under threat … a quoll encountered by the team surveying the region’s rare species. Photo: Nick Moir

Feral cats are by far the biggest threat to the Kimberley’s biodiversity. There are at least 100,000, eating a million-plus native animals each day. They have a more direct impact than wild herbivores such as donkeys. And the impact of fire is far greater because it allows cats to hunt down small species more easily. Pressure from tourism and mining could take its toll on the region, one of the continent’s 15 biodiversity hotspots, if left uncontrolled.

Despite Canberra’s decision to place vast tracts of the west Kimberley on the National Heritage List, the scale of the problem has grown too large for governments to manage alone. It is this predicament that convinced the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, a non-profit conservation organisation, to take over the management of 150,000 hectares of wilderness in a narrow corridor of the north-west Kimberley.

Just under half the property is a mix of grassland savannahs and rolling basalt hills, bounded to the north by the mighty Charnley River.

A Giant cave Gecko.A giant cave gecko. Photo: Nick Moir

Read it all…http://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/the-last-refuge-20111202-1ob3v.html#ixzz1fcd0kgIU

The Artesian Range , The Kimberly's WA<br /><br /><br /><br />
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Nicky Phillips and Nick Moir travelled to The Kimberley to look at the Artesian range.

Got you, you little rat – now let’s save you

It was once so common it was considered a pest, found running through the rooftops of many houses in Broome.

Another introduced predator has now reached the southern Kimberley area, the European Fox, recently seen near Broome and also at the Edgar Range, and the poisonous Cane Toad is now seen regularly in the East Kimberley.

About Tom Harley

Amateur ecologist and horticulturalist and CEO of Kimberley Environmental Horticulture Inc.
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