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Mammals on the Brink

short-eared rock wallabies

Perhaps because of their rocky, inaccessible habitat, short-eared rock wallabies are one of a few species whose populations remain healthy in much of the Northern Territory. Credit: Ian Morris

By Mark Ziembicki

Traditional ecological knowledge and western science have combined to address one of Australia’s most pressing biodiversity conservation issues – the decline of its native mammal species.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Pulling into Mapuru, a remote outstation on the edge of the Arnhem Land plateau, our car is held hostage by a large pack of barking camp dogs. Unwilling to brave an exit, we remain trapped until some local kids chase the canines away and we cautiously step out of the vehicle to be welcomed by our hosts, the traditional land owners of the area. As the dogs hover at a distance I wonder whether they somehow sense what is in the back of our ute.

The outstation is another stop on an extended field trip across Arnhem Land that aims to document Aboriginal people’s knowledge of some of our most threatened wildlife. In the back of the Toyota is a prized collection of stuffed museum mammal specimens – a travelling puppet show of sorts – carefully prepared in life-like poses to help with our interviews.

As the billy tea boils nearby, several elders and a few younger people gather on a canvas tarp laid out under the shade of a large Darwin Woollybutt. From the back of the Toyota I bring out the collection of animals I’ve brought from Darwin.

We are up to the tree rats. As the children giggle and point at the models, the elders reminisce about hunting these large arboreal rats and how they used to cook them. I pick up kordberr, the local name for the golden-backed tree rat. One of the younger women who had remained silent until now suddenly speaks up. “I seen...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.