The Martu people of the western deserts are working to protect one of the last strongholds of the iconic bilby.

Dr Anja Skroblin with the Punmu rangers checking out a  mankarr  burrow

Dr Anja Skroblin with the Punmu rangers checking out a mankarr burrow

Last week Dr Anja Skroblin from the University of Melbourne joined up with the Punmu ranger team to discuss and trial different approaches for surveying for mankarr (bilbies).  The group spent three days out on country surveying for mankarr and two days mapping their locations.

Sitting down with family groups in the community the elders, many of who are pujiman (bushmen and women, who were born and grew up in the desert before having first contact with European Australians in the 1950s and 1960s) mapped out where mankarr occurred when they used to walk the country.   Martu shared stories of the animals that they used to see around waterholes that families visited.  They talked about mankarr and also the mala, golden bandicoot, brush-tailed possum and quoll.  Elder Nancy Chapman said ā€œMankarr are the only one nowā€.  The elders together with the rangers also mapped our where Martu have been seeing mankarr more recently. 

Martu rangers and elders described what landscape elements make good habitat for mankarr.  How right-way waru (fire) is important for encouraging growth of mankarr food plants.  The lake edge around Punmu is particularly good for mankarr as there is plentiful food (minyarra (bush onion), lunki (witchetty grubs) and ants), and there is patchy small fire history.  The groups also spoke about how foxes as well as cats are threats to mankarr.  Elder Minyawu Chapman said ā€œFoxes are here sometimes. Foxes dig up mankarr and do more damage than catsā€. 

The maps created will be used to help direct where the ranger teams should visit to monitor the status of bilby populations.

This project is supported by the NESP Threatened Species Hub and Martu Living Deserts Project (a collaboration between The Nature Conservancy, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa, and BHP Billiton) and the Australian Government through the Working on Country program.  The project aims to bring together Indigenous Ecological Knowledge and leading-edge western science to improve the way Martu ranger teams monitor trends of bilby populations on their country over time, and assess whether current threat management practices (feral herbivore and predator removal, fire management) are helpful to conserve bilbies on Martu lands.