Punmu rangers attend Newhaven ‘Cat Camp’ and Kiwirrkurra ranger exchange

In April, eight Punmu rangers made the long drive to Warlpiri country to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s (AWC) Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northern Territory. After two days and sixteen hours of driving, they joined ranger teams from Kiwirrkurra, Nyirripi and Yuendumu communities for the third annual ‘Cat Camp’. 

The camp focused on sharing skills and methods of tracking and trapping feral cats, the ethics of cat culling and animal welfare, and discussion on threatened species management. 
The Newhaven property was once a working cattle station.  It is currently being restored to its original state. With the successful completion of a 44km fence, property managers are now working with local Warlpiri rangers to eradicate feral animals, using a combination of trapping and cat tracking. Once cleared, they are aiming to re-introduce a variety of threatened species, once common across the desert landscape, into the feral animal free-zone. 

During the ‘Cat Camp’, Punmu rangers learnt how to use soft jaw-traps with expert trapper Murray Schofield. The rangers also spent an afternoon of cat tracking with Newhaven ranger Christine Ellis. They listened to an engaging presentation by Desert Wildlife Services ecologist Rachel Paltridge on how to develop a feral animal predator control management plan. 

The rangers also had the opportunity to visit Newhaven’s Great Desert Skink  colonies and learn about their prescribed burning program. Back at camp, Martu, Pintupi and Warlpiri rangers shared stories about the jukurrpa and environmental significance of this special animal (warrana – Warlpiri; tjakura – Pintupi; mulyamiji – Manyjilyjarra/Martu). 

On the final night, the group went on a special tour of AWC’s new mala paddock, where 28 mala are successfully breeding as part of their re-introduction program. Mala persisted in pujiman times in the Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts until the 1950s.  Populations sharply declined following European settlement, the introduction of cats and foxes and removal of people from the desert as families moved into the missions. It was very emotional for some people to see this animal as it has long finished up on Martu country but is remembered fondly by elders. 

The ranger team finished the week with two days in Kiwirrkurra community. Over 20 Kiwirrkurra and Punmu rangers went on-country for the day. Kiwirrkurra rangers showed incredible tracking skills and stamina. Working as a team, the group caught two male feral cats each weighing four kilograms. As a follow-up to the trip, the Martu rangers will be trialling techniques learnt during the camp in Punmu community. Feral cats pose one of the main threats to threatened species, such as mulyamiji (Great Desert Skinks) and mankarr (Greater Bilbies), in the Punmu area and more broadly across the desert and indeed the whole of Australia.  

At the end of the week the tired Punmu rangers headed home, collecting jinjiwirrily (desert raisins) along the way. Everyone was in high spirits as the familiar salt lake country of Lake Dora came into view on the horizon.

Thank you to Rachel Paltridge (DWS), Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary manager Josef Schofield and Dane Moore, Christine, Alice and Benedict for a fantastic week. Thanks also to the Kiwirrkurra IPA rangers, and program leaders Kate Crossing and Peter Jarvis from Desert Support Services.

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