The residents of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park rise before the sun. Reptiles, marsupials and insects of all kinds roam at first light. In this ecosystem, it’s not just the early birds who get the worm. Park staff and Mutitjulu Community Rangers rose early for a special fauna survey to study the success of the park’s winter burning strategy.
In 2002, most of the park was affected by wildfire. Afterwards, we had several years of below average rainfall, so there was little vegetation re-growth until 2010-2012, when all the spinifex sprung up at the same time.
In response we developed a new winter burn strategy, with the aim to break country into a range of age classes of spinifex. The idea is to emulate or re-create traditional Anangu mosaic burning. This protects us from bush fires and creates different habitats. Our animals have different environmental requirements, so we wanted to make sure we’re taking care of them by creating enough homes.
The survey analysed four duplicate sites simultaneously over two weeks. Each site consisted of one burnt and one unburnt patch. The process involved over 20 people and hundreds of animals. Many park staff even volunteered their time to help with the surveys. Each site used 60 Elliot traps, 18 pitfall traps and netting to capture small mammals, reptiles and invertebrates. Traps were baited with delicious balls of peanut butter and oats.
Animal welfare was the first priority during the survey. We checked the traps as early as possible in the mornings to ensure the animals weren’t confined in the heat. We didn’t want to stress them out. We closed the traps for the day after we had identified, measured, weighed and counted the animals. We opened the traps again before dusk, so they entered during the night and early in the morning.
What we’re hoping to find is many different types of animals, not necessarily higher numbers. Finding more biodiversity will mean our fire burning strategy is working successfully, creating all the homes our wildlife needs.
The final results of the fauna survey won’t be revealed for a few weeks, but there are some exciting prospects. We caught one species of black collared dragon (Ctenophorus clayi) that had not been found in the park before. Another welcome surprise was a monk snake. This species had only been found in the park 16 years ago.
Kerrie and Claudianna, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park