Martu continue their bilby research, asking Wanja Mankarr? – to assess threats, habitat, and food sources

KJ ranger teams have been carrying out mankarr (bilby) surveys as part of the mankarr monitoring project. This work, over time, will monitor population size, distribution and assess habitat health.

Establishing the baseline data

In 2017, four ranger teams carried out 30 surveys as part of trialling and refining the Martu mankarr research method. In 2018, the new mankarr research method was used by Punmu and Parnngurr rangers to survey 42 sites. A total of 187 ranger hours were used to survey for mankarr by the four communities across these two years.

Mankarr survey results

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As part of the monitoring design, ranger teams identified likely mankarr habitat and set-up permanent survey sites in these areas (called monitoring zones). In 2018, mankarr signs were found at 80% of the monitoring sites.

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At some sites, rangers measured the length of track-gait to work out the age class of the mankarr. In most cases, large mankarr – most probably adult males – were measured. Some medium sized mankarr tracks – which were either females or small males – were found too. Encouragingly, 25% of tracks that were measured were found to be juvenile size.

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Predators and feral animals

Findings show that:

  • feral cats, dingos and camels are common

  • mankarr are still found at sites where there are signs of cats, foxes and dingos

  • fox signs were not common (only at 10 sites); but

  • signs of both foxes and mankarr were found at six sites.

Other feral animals were found by some ranger teams:

  • rabbits were only found near Punmu

  • cattle, horses and donkey signs were found near Jigalong; and

  • a few donkey tracks were recorded at sites near Parnngurr.

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Fire histories at survey sites

There was a variety of fire histories across the sites that were surveyed. All fire age classes were found during surveys from fresh burns to dense old spinifex, and many of the sites had more than one fire age class, meaning that patchy burning had occurred.

Mosaic burning is part of the traditional hunting and management methods Indigenous peoples have been applying for many thousands of years that suits the mankarr quite well, as it leaves them areas to hide from predators while creating food resources in newly burned areas.

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Looking forward

KJ rangers will continue throughout the year with the ‘mankarr method’ which encourages Martu to keep passing Martu expert knowledge onto younger generations – assisting with “keeping country healthy!”

This project…

This has been a collaborative project between the Traditional Owners – Martu working as part of KJ’s ranger program – and researchers from the Uni of Melbourne (supported by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program through the Threatened Species Recovery Hub) BHP, The Nature Conservancy, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Parks and Wildlife Services, and Rangelands NRM WA.