• Bilbys have declined across much of their former range due to land clearance and introduced predators. (Flickr/Bernard Dupont - CC-BY-2.0)
The bilby is one of the most critically endangered native animals in Australia their numbers have dramatically reduced since European settlement now the finally refuge of the small marsupial is in the Kimberley of Western Australia where the Indigenous Rangers are taking on the responsibility of protecting the bilby.
By
Craig Quartermaine

17 May 2017 - 12:02 PM  UPDATED 17 May 2017 - 12:04 PM

Rangers from across the Kimberley have gathered in a classroom in Fitzroy Crossing to learn about tracking and monitoring the elusive small marsupial the bilby.

Rangers are taught all the latest techniques and technology that is required to protect the bilby.

The Kimberley Land Council let The Point join their rangers for their theory session ahead of the bilby monitoring as part of the Kimberley Nature Project where Dr Malcolm Lindsay addressed the 50 rangers and coordinators from across the Kimberley.

He explained some of the difficulties of tracking bilbies with some being capable of travelling up to two kilometres at night the area their responsible for covering is massive, but sadly not as big as it use to be.

"Sorry to harp on about the culture thing, but it's knowledge - you call it data, but it's knowledge.”

Bilbies once populated 70 per cent of the Australian landscape but since colonisation its population has been drastically reduced. Foxes and feral cats, as well as the vastly expanded human population have driven these delicate animals to the brink; they are now only found in a few parts of Australia.

Goodiandi country in the East Kimberley is some of the most isolated bilbies populations in the region with the and spinifex, rugged ranges and open plains all across one of the last strongholds of the endangered marsupial.

During the Kimberley Land Council’s training session in Fitzroy Crossing the discussion about how the accumulated data from years of research gives some indication of bilby behaviour, but it's traditional owner’s knowledge that fills in the gaps.

One of the rangers says to the class: “You’re talking about interpreting the data for research this is about becoming more technical with culture and translating it to the scientific aspect; sorry to harp on about the culture thing, but it's knowledge - you call it data, but it's knowledge.”

It’s a poignant moment and the point is well made that this is where traditional owner’s knowledge meets modern techniques, because as bilby habitat has shrunk and electronic monitoring has improved the areas the bilby is still found on are lands managed by Traditional Owners.

According to Dr Lindsay 80 per cent of the bilby’s range today is Aboriginal managed land.

“So to not have traditional owners in the training room and discussion around the bilby’s protection would be excluding the land managers who have kept these bilby alive.”

One of the biggest aspects of bilby preservation is the protection from predators so the class gather to go through the loading and setting up procedure for feral animal traps and the tagging of bilbies.

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Virgil Cherel has been a ranger for five years and has now been put in charge of training new rangers, he is reluctant to be in charge, but he’s good at his job and the passion for conservation is evident among the rangers.

After showing the other rangers how to set traps Virgil and ranger coordinator Hugh James take me out to show me how to set one up, and also how they record and their movements. I walk around with Hugh and Virgil as we look for any tracks so we can set up, It’s this sort of strategy where traditional knowledge and modern techniques come together not only are the traps set but tags and locations are logged into a data base back at headquarters and is accessible to all rangers on the job. Simple things like setting up near water that bilbies will want to access and assessing tracks.

 

After I failed several times to correctly set up a trap I realised its’ a good thing having actual rangers who know what they are actually doing and are taking the responsibility of protecting this vast landscape as well as Traditional Owners.

An intimate knowledge and appreciation is what keeps these rangers on the lands, but in some cases but it’s an ancient connection that thankfully up here many of the Rangers already have.

After seeing the rangers in action it’s relieving to see the protection of the bilby is in safe and caring hands.

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