The Australian Wildlife Conservancy is the largest private (non profit) owner of land for conservation in Australia protecting endangered wildlife across almost 6.5 million hectares. We wanted to see first hand what they were doing that was different to give them such success and why they are miles ahead of Govt agencies which are now watching what AWC are doing. We headed to one of their sanctuaries in the Kimberley – Mornington – where they also have a wilderness camp. M
Mornington have only a limited number of camping sites there and even though we booked about 5 weeks beforehand we were not able to get in on our preferred dates, so we skipped a couple of attractions on the Gibb River Road with the intention of backtracking to visit them afterwards. However we did stop for the night near Barnett Gorge which lies on the aboriginal owned Gibb River Station and went for a late afternoon walk to the gorge itself. Being a lesser known gorge it was great to have it to ourselves. S
One of the resident Ecologists gives a talk every second night to let people know how they operate and where their donation money is spent. The AWC operates almost entirely from donations with a budget approaching $25m per year and staff of approximately 120. You can see that they don’t want to say anything disparaging about the government conservation bodies and indeed, they are eager to work with them and help were possible. However, reading between the lines it seems that a combination of red-tape, conflicting political agendas, lack of accountability and misdirected efforts cause inefficiencies and poor outcomes in the government bodies. S
We learned here that Australia is a world leader in mammal extinctions. 31 species have gone extinct since European settlement and a further 56 mammal species are threatened with extinction. The main drivers of this crisis in Australia include invasive species (particularly feral cats and foxes) inappropriate fire regimens and feral herbivores ie cattle, horses, donkeys etc. We should be ashamed of such a record! And every year Australians are spending more and more money on domestic animals while our natives go extinct! M
AWC leads the way in new models for conservation. Issue 37 of their wildlife matters newsletter outlines their strategy. They aim to
– Deliver science based land management
– Construct a network of large scale fenced areas to secure the future of threatened species.
– Invest in strategic research
– Pursue long term solutions to control key threats to wildlife, such as gene drive technology in partnership with the CSIRO.
Mornington is currently working with the CSIRO in trying to tackle the very difficult task of getting rid of feral cats. Cats are very difficult to trap or catch and can eat 5 birds/ small mammals etc in ONE night of hunting! Once cats can be eradicated/controlled this will go a long way in slowing the rate of decline in our native animals/birds.
Spinifex termites are amongst the largest in the world and large ones can be over 100 yrs old.
Termites are natures nutrient recyclers and play an essential role in soil preservation and encourage plant growth. All these aspects make them important to the AWC. They help them in healing the land.
We did a few activities at Mornington and had a look around the property. After the termite trail we headed out to Sir John Gorge for a walk and sunset. On the way we stopped at Blue Bush water hole. It had shrunk to a small billabong with less than 1/3 their normal summer rainfall last wet season. It was still good for a swim and a swing on the rope swing which was a lot of fun. Here is Steve showing his style which was much better than mine.
We also took the opportunity to go for a paddle through Dimond Gorge. Yes that’s how they spell it. This gorge is formed where the Fitzroy river carves its way through the King Leopold Range and provides a scenic paddle under the sandstone cliffs. Again, being terribly dry, the Fitzroy River, which normally flows all year round had stopped and the water level in the gorge was about 1.5 metres lower than normal and not quite as clear as it should be.
We left Mornington feeling very impressed with the AWC and confident that their donated funds are being well spent. We will certainly continue to support them going forward.