Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy

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

mornington wildlife conservancy

radio for mornington
You radio Mornington before you head down their 88 km “driveway”, so they know if you don’t make it.

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

the mornington rd
The road into Mornington took us 2.5 hours from the main road, but it was scenic.
mornington road views
Views from the 88km driveway into Mornington

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.

national sanctuary network
The sign has not kept up as it is now 6.5 million hectares
gouldian health check sign
Mornington is doing great things for endangered Gouldian Finches as well as now having one of the largest populations of purple crowned fairy wrens in Australia. Steve saw dozens close to camp all with tags on their little ankles.
termite trail sign at mornington
Finally someone who understands termites and how important they are and has dedicated an entire walk to them!
termite trail
Sooo excited about the termite trail!
termite hole home
Some species of kingfisher, parrots and reptiles nest in termite mounds.
termite mound up close
Up close they resemble elephant skin

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.

baby elephant termite mound
A spinifex termite mound on Mornington which I will call the  “baby elephant”
huge termite mound the wave
This one is called the “wave”.

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.

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sir john panorama
Sunset panorama at Sir John Gorge.  Below: other scenes at Sir John Gorge and an Olive Backed Oriole that also came over to admire the sunset

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.

crimson finch 5
Crimson finches came to the campsite each afternoon to eat the grass seed off the ground
bar shouldered and peacefull
After a day we discovered a little waterhole hidden in the bush just 10m from our campsite.  Here a bar-shouldered dove and peaceful dove – both very common all over northern Australia came down to show off their contrasting sizes.    If you are wondering what they sound like, the larger bar-shouldered dove makes a sound that has been described as “move over my dear”, while the peaceful dove goes “woodle wook”
steve looking for birds
Admiring a red-backed Kingfisher on a kapok tree with the impressive Fitzroy bluff in the background.  OK not as impressive as Fitzroy in Patagonia, but a lot warmer.
red backed kingfisher
With both birds and mountains to look at, what more could you want?
bower bird bower mornington
A great bower bird’s bower.  This one didn’t feature any toy hand grenades like the one we saw at Lawn Hill Gorge.
anniversary dinner
Our visit to Mornington co-incided with our wedding anniversary and in keeping with our tradition of having a fancy dinner to celebrate, we splashed out and ate at their dining area.  The food was excellent – beef cheeks – even more so considering the location

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.

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