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…

The Artesian Range , The Kimberly's WA<br /><br /><br />
Pic Nick Moir 21 Nov 2011Click to play video


The Kimberley

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. (Tom Harley) Kimberley Environmental Horticulture Incorporated Kimberley Environmental Horticulture (KEH) is a small group of committed individuals who promote the use of indigenous plants for the landscaping of parks and gardens. Rehabilitation of Kimberley coast, bushland and pastoral regions are also high on our agenda. This includes planting seedlings, weed control, damage from erosion or any other environmental matter that comes to our attention. We come from all walks of life, from Professionals and Trades oriented occupations, Pensioners and Students, Public Servants and the Unemployed. We have a community plant nursery where we trial many old and new species, with a view to incorporating these into our landscaping trials. Our labour force are mainly volunteers, but with considerable help from the 'work for the dole' program, Indigenous Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) groups and the Ministry of Justice, with their community work orders; in this way we manage to train many people in the horticultural skills needed for indigenous plant growing. We constantly undertake field trips that cover seed and plant collection in the Kimberley. Networking around the Kimberley region and the east Pilbara is a necessary part of promoting our activities. We consult on a range of Environmental and Landscaping matters that deal with our region. Our activities involve improving Broome's residential streetscapes by including 'waterwise' priciples in planting out nature strips. Sustainable environmental horticulture is practised by members of our group. We use existing vegetation as the backbone of any plantings, using these species to advantage when planning to develop tree forms or orchards. The Broome region is sensitive to development. Subsequently many weed species have become dominant in and around developed areas. The use and movement of heavy machinery is the biggest single cause of environmental degradation. We dont live in a 'Tropical Paradise' but on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert. The plants that survive best here, grow in well-drained pindan sand, and are found from the Dampier Peninsular southward to where average rainfall is below 600mm. When we use rainforest species, detail is important when planting, water catchment, sunlight and understorey species are all considered. The use of recycled 'grey' water is an advantage here as well as treated waste-water, although many local species do not fare well with nutrients from this source. We use waterwise planting methods which include harvesting asmuch rainwater as possible, with swales designed to hold up to 200 litres, to help recharge the local groundwater aquifer. There has been a serious decline in this aquifer over the last few years. With the fast expansion of the Broome peninsular, more and more land is being covered by concrete, iron and bitumen so that much less water is available to replenish the aquifer, allowing the salt content to become significantly higher. The small Broome Peninsular is on the south-western corner of the Dampier Peninsular (bound by Broome, Derby and Cape Leveque at the northern tip). Compaction by vehicles also inhibits water retention due to the content of our local pindan sand, hard as concrete in the dry, going to soft and sloppy mud after rain. None of us are botanists, inevitably we have got some names wrong, names changed, or have not gone to sub-species level. If you note a photo or description may be wrong, please e-mail to
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One Response to The last ‘lost world’…The Australian Kimberley

  1. Pingback: Conservation of the Kimberley … enrichment of the Savannah | pindanpost

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