Saving the endangered Warru wallaby

Warru, or black-footed rock-wallaby (Petrogale lateralis Macdonell Ranges race), is one of South Australia’s most endangered mammals. Once common across the rocky ranges of central Australia, there has been a dramatic reduction in their distribution and abundance. The Warru recovery team of Indigenous Rangers, local communities, government agencies and scientists are working to change this species’ fate. Importantly, the project is leading to employment for some of Australia’s most remote people. The project employed 33 casual rangers in 2015-16, and 9 indigenous rangers on a permanent part-time basis.  This is compared to only 2 non-indigenous staff working on the project.

There are only two wild populations of Warru known in South Australia. These are in the Eastern Musgrave Ranges and the Tomkinson Ranges of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in the far north-west of the state.

In 1999, APY Land Management rangers started work on project activities to protect the Warru.  Then in 2007, due to increasing concern that the Warru were facing extinction, the Warru Recovery Team formed. This team combines the knowledge and skills of the traditional owners with Western science and ground breaking species recovery activities.  The team includes traditional owners of the APY Lands, the communities of Kalka, Pipalyatjara, Pukatja and Kenmore Park on the APY Lands, state and federal Governments, APY Land Management, the University of Adelaide, Adelaide Zoo and private ecologists.

To provide the Warru with safety and increased habitat, significant feral animal control and fire management regimes have been implemented via the 10 rangers assigned to the management of the in-situ population.

In addition to the management of the in-situ population, 22 Warru joeys were translocated to Monarto Zoo and cross-fostered with captive yellow-footed rock wallabies. This activity was undertaken with the full support of traditional owners to boost the success of breeding populations and provide animals to reintroduce into the wild.

In June 2010, to support the planned reintroduction of captive Warru, a 100 hectare predator-proof Warru enclosure was constructed following comprehensive site selection process. Anangu community members installed 4.4km predator exclosure or ‘warru pintji’ fencing. This safe-haven helps the captivity-bred Warru safely acclimatise and adapt to local conditions. Since 2011, more than 15 Warru raised in captivity at Monarto Zoo have been released into the warru pintji, and free breeding is now taking place.

Over the past decade, the Warru Recovery Team and employees from the APY Lands have successfully undertaken trapping surveys. The 11th trapping survey in the Musgrave and Tomkinson Ranges, showed that the Warru population was in recovery. In 2016 a total of 63 individual Warru were trapped across the six monitoring sites with a success rate of 35%. Sustained increases in the populations have occurred since trapping. Feral cat and fox control is continuing and may be reducing some pressure from cat predation. Although Warru remains were found in four cats shot in 2015, only two cats were trapped at Alalka in that year, which is an improvement to the 13 from the previous year (2014).

The work to recover the endangered Warru is providing employment for 42 Indigenous people in very remote Australia. The collaboration is using the best of Indigenous knowledge and techniques integrated with modern science. The numbers are showing improvement and the success is good for the Warru and good for the community.