Location of the Week – The Kimberley

Deep in an isolated corner of Australia lies one of the world’s greatest wildernesses. The Kimberley, a jumble of vine thicket rain forests, monsoon-laden woodlands, dense tropical forested savannas, and rugged sandstone outcrops, has sheltered and has continued to hold some of Australia’s, and some the world’s most endangered, evolutionarily distinct mammal species. The Kimberley is an extremely diverse landscape, beginning with the sandy deserts of the south to the monsoon vine rain forests in the north. Between these areas, an astonishing diversity of species occurs – from the well-known such as Kangaroos and Wallabies, to Rabbit-rats, Phascogales, Quolls, and Bandicoots. To the north lies a scenic, wild coastline filled with coral reefs and diverse ocean communities. In fact, the Kimberley is so remote that many of the invasive-non native pests of Australia have not threatened the wildlife of this primeval land. It has held animals that have been forced into extinction in other parts of Australia, keeping them safe and in healthy numbers.

Unfortunately though, the Kimberley has been increasingly infiltrated by invasive pests – Feral cats, dogs, cattle, and worst of all – the cane toad. This creature, first introduced to Australia’s “Top End” in the Kakadu region of the Northern Territory, has wreaked immeasurable havoc on Australia’s rare, unique mammals. In particular, rare species, including the rare Northern Brush Tailed Phascogale, Northern Quoll, and more have been driven to near extinction from consuming the poisonous toads which are also fecund breeders. Previously though, the toads were restricted to the northern territory and north Queensland (luckily they have caused much less damage here than in the NT), but now they are beginning to increase their presence in the Kimberley as well. Fortunately though, the Quolls, Phascogales, Scaly Tailed, Northern Brushtail, and Rock Ringtail Possums, Golden Backed, Black-footed, and Brush-tailed Rabbit Rats, Nabarleks, Monjons, Northern Nailtail, Short Eared Rock, and Agile Wallabies, Planigales, Pseudantechinuses, Bandicoots, Rock Rats are safe in this region. While most of this is due to the region’s remoteness and in general, imperviousness to invasion by non native pests, this is also due to Australia’s excellent protection of this region. Huge reserves – Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Artesian Range Preserve, Mitchell Falls National Park, Prince Regent Conservation Park, King Leopold Ranges National Park, and Drysdale River National Park – have safeguarded the region’s mammals from extinction. Thanks to this protection and isolation, they have survived unharmed and their populations stay healthy. Especially for mammals such as the Northern Quoll and Northern Brush Tailed Phascogale, whose populations have been decimated by toads, this area offers a key sanctuary, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for several species with otherwise bleak futures. Hopefully, as this region begins to gain attention from the world, increased support will come to protect this amazing landscape filled with rare species. This is one of the few areas in Northern Australia where mammals are protected well, and can survive for long periods of time – this is especially crucial in light of the recent huge numbers of mammal extinctions that have plagued Northern Australia, the most biodiverse part of the continent. In the end, I believe this region offers a good picture of idealized wildlife conservation and serves as a good template – the Kimberley is a region where national parks coexist with mining projects, and rare mammals survive in their primeval refuges that they have called home for millennia. Unfortunately though, this area is an exception: few live here, and it has stayed the same way for thousands of years. Most national parks and regions are not this “lucky,” particularly those in densely populated regions. Perhaps other parts of the world can learn and apply this to help their wildlife.

I hope to visit this area, or possibly also Cape York and North Queensland within the next few years…

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