Martu bilby monitoring in Science for saving species magazine

The Martu monitoring of bilbies project I’ve been working on has been featured in the latest edition of the Science for saving species magazine, which has several articles stressing the importance of good collaborations and stakeholder engagement for conservation outcomes.

It’s great that a photo from the first day I went bilby tracking with Martu elders made the cover.

anja-with-karnu-and-ngamaru-aug-16-bilby-site

Nancy Taylor and Ngamaru Bidu telling me about the Mankarr. Photo: Raymond De Groot KJ.

Also check out a great article on making threatened-species monitoring count, which describes the outcomes of monitoring workshop held earlier this year.

 

 

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Darting cattle for conservation research

Ever needed to individually capture free-ranging cattle outside of mustering time?

These two new papers from Jordan Hampton et al. may point you in the right direction:

  1. An effective humane, and cost-effective method for darting to immoblise cattle from the ground. Read here…
  2.   Welfare impacts of helicopter darting cattle. Read here…

Both papers have come from the project: CaLF -Demonstrating the Productivity Benefits of EcoFire  (a collaboration between the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Rangelands NRM and CSIRO)

 

 

picture-cow-darting-helicopter
Helicopter darting of collared cow. Hampton et al 2016. The Rangelands Journal.
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Learning about right-way partnerships at the ESA Biocultural Symposium

My favourite part of ESA in Fremantle  was going along to the Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge Symposium. It’s really exciting to hear from Indigenous rangers about all the great work they’ve been doing to care for country, and learning about the various ways that Indigenous Knowledge is being jointly applied with western science for natural resource management.

Talks this year covered various topics from finding the cause of Melaleuca dieback in Arnhem Land, monitoring of Kakarratul (Marsupial Moles) in the western deserts, right-way burning in the savannahs and western woodlands, and how Guugu Yimidhirr classify ecosystems based on their productivity. There were representatives from Birriliburu, Wunambal Gaambera, Bardi Jawi, Nyul Nyul, Ngadju, and others, and also an excellent keynote presentation from ethnobotanist Gerry Turpin who described biocultural knowledge and cross-cultural connections.

Scientists have a lot to gain from learning about the way that Indigenous peoples care for country and from appreciating the full scope of Indigenous knowledge. The presenters stressed that:

  • Indigenous biocultural knowledge encompasses people, language, culture, spirituality and relationship with the environment.
  • The biocultural knowledge of Indigenous Australians is broader and more sophisticated than the topics western science encapsulates.
  • Indigenous knowledge holders are scientists in their own right.

Many of the presenters touched on the ways to do “right-way research”. Being a researcher I found it extremely valuable to hear Indigenous perspectives on what ingredients make for good partnerships between researchers and Traditional Owner groups.

Some of my take home messages were:

  • Spend plenty of time in the community, have meetings and develop joint objectives with Traditional Owners.
  • Research projects need to align with local Indigenous priorities, and have value to the community (often beyond employment) to have support and longevity.
  • Research should acknowledge and complement the knowledge held by Traditional Owners.
  • Scientists need to be respectful of local protocols and seek guidance.
  • It’s important to go back to communities to share findings.

You can learn more about the presentations here:

https://kaigi.eventsair.com/QuickEventWebsitePortal/esa16/eventinfo/Agenda/AgendaItemDetail?id=3564a41b-0532-4978-806c-6a1381c8d88c

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Indigenous Bilby Festival

A huge white marquee on the red-dirt, 150 knowledgeable participants from across the nation, deep abiding respect, lashings of enthusiasm for culture and conservation, and….. the Threatened Species Commissioner in a freaky bilby suit?….. perfect ingredients for the inaugural Indigenous Bilby Festival!

I was lucky enough to attend the festival with a contingent of twelve Martu rangers and Tracy Carboon from Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ). We had driven three days through big-sky-desert-country, criss-crossing several of the Western Australian deserts to get to Kiwirrkurra, a small Indigenous community near the WA/NT border that wasw hosting the festival.

People had come from all over: the locals from Kiwirrkurra were joined by countrymen and women from places like Punmu, Parnngurr, Wiluna, Tennant Creek, Warburton, Kalgoorlie, Broome, Fitzroy Crossing, plus scientists and representatives from government and conservation organisations.

Indigenous and non-indigenous alike, we were there for the same purpose: to share ways that traditional Indigenous methods and Western methods can be applied to better monitor and conserve the remaining populations of bilbies.

The location of our meeting was significant. Kiwirrkurra is in the heartland of the remaining distribution of bilbies. After disappearing from most of a former range, bilbies are now largely restricted to Indigenous lands in the deserts of WA and NT.

Over the three days we heard from each of the ranger teams on the work that they are carrying out on their country, their knowledge of bilbies, and their cultural connections to bilbies. We learnt a multitude of language names for bilby from ‘Ninu’, ‘Mankarr’, ‘Bilba’, ‘Walpajirri’ and my favourite ‘Pingki-tawutawu’, which if I got the translation right, refers to the feathery tuft on the end of the bilby tail. We heard about how the bilby stole pearl shells in the Kimberley and burrowed with them to Roebuck Bay. How bilbies are connected to love, marriage and motherhood, and that bilby stories connect across the Indigenous countries that were represented at the festival.

It was palpable how deeply affected the Indigenous people at the festival were by the loss of bilbies and other native species from their countries. Listening to stories, we learnt that animals, including bilbies, not only provide traditional resources (such as food or decoration), but are integral components of culture, law and spirituality. The messages were powerful and sobering.

Many of the people attending showed extraordinarily detailed ecological knowledge of bilbies (food, habitat, threats) and in-depth understanding of how to use fire to improve the country for bilbies. I was fascinated by how many of the food plants for bilbies are also important traditional foods for people. Traditional knowledge and fire practices are used to encourage these food resources, making it clear that the Indigenous culture and connection to country are strong positive forces to conserve bilbies and other biodiversity.

The afternoon field trips around Kiwirrkurra were a highlight. The festival did a fantastic job of demonstrating Indigenous and Western approaches to monitoring. We saw side-by-side: the Indigenous field methods of food resource identification, bilby tracking techniques, and cat hunting, with the modern scientific methods of collecting scats for DNA analysis, and using drones to identify burrows and diggings.

The festival was a positive and encouraging experience. I am convinced that combining Traditional and Western scientific cultures, through the dedicated work of Indigenous land managers, is integral to biodiversity conservation in the remaining haunts of the bilby.

You can read more about the festival:

http://www.nespthreatenedspecies.edu.au/news/endangered-bilby-connects-communities-across-time-and-space

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/24/goodbye-kiwirrkurra-you-are-confounding-never-changing-and-always-different

 

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Monitoring bilbies in the western deserts

I’ve started working on an exciting project in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy and Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ). We’re aiming to refine the ability of indigenous ranger lead monitoring to detect changes in population status of the bilby in the remote western deserts.

This work forms just one small part of the Martu Living Deserts Project. A project that is supporting Martu people in fulfilling their aim to conserve the cultural and natural values of their native title determination area, which extends over large parts of the Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson Deserts in Western Australia.

Threatened species monitoring is one of the activities carried out by Martu ranger groups when they work on country to manage cultural heritage and ecological values. We’ll be working with the rangers to refine the way monitoring is conducted so that population trends of bilbies, and the effectiveness of current land management practices to conserve native animals can be assessed.

I’ll be working closely with KJ and the Martu people to use traditional ecological knowledge where possible when designing the monitoring program. Over the coming months, I’ll be making visits to the remote deserts of Western Australia and can’t wait to learn more about the people and ecology of the area (plus have photos to share then too!).

This project will be bringing together quantitative ecological analyses, remote field work, traditional ecological knowledge and unique Australian fauna (four wonderful things). The research will also form a case study for monitoring rare species in remote areas within the National Environmental Science Programme’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

Make sure you come back to check for updates as the project progresses.

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