An historic and culturally significant event involving the Territory’s endangered Mala (Rufous Hare-wallaby) is set to occur in Central Australia this week.
About 20 Mala are being relocated from Watarrka National Park to Newhaven Station, owned and operated by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), where they will be cared for in a special-purpose 150 hectare enclosure, protecting them from feral predators.
Newhaven Warlpiri rangers are helping AWC field staff build the enclosure before the relocation starts this Wednesday.
AWC is in the process of building a much longer fence to exclude feral predators from a 9000 ha exclosure at Newhaven, with Mala set to move into this larger area when the fence is completed and the predators removed in 2019.
Construction of the fenced areas has been partly funded by the Australian Government, with support from the Northern Territory Government.
Mala grow to a height of 40cm and weigh up to 1.5 kg. They are extinct in the wild on mainland Australia but there are a number of semi-wild populations in fenced exclosures.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources species conservation director, Dr Simon Ward, will lead the capture of the 20 Mala and said a devastating wildfire in 2013 had significantly reduced the captive population at Watarrka National Park.
“A captive population of about 50-60 Mala lived in a 116 hectare purpose-built enclosure before the fire and at least 44 mala were counted in the immediate aftermath of the fire,” Dr Ward said.
“Sadly, the population has continued to decrease and the decision has been made by the Mala National Recovery Team to urgently relocate the mala to Newhaven Station where they will have a better chance of survival and population recovery.
“It is important to relocate the Mala now before the start of summer when the fire risk is further increased and when high temperatures make capture and transport of Mala more stressful.”
Department of Tourism and Culture Director for Central Australian Parks Chris Day said it will be a bittersweet time for the Parks and Wildlife staff involved.
“We obviously want what is best for the Mala and it has become clear from recent population census work carried out by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ scientists that the captive population at Watarrka needs help,” Mr Day said.
“The Parks and Wildlife Commission has had a long and productive involvement with the Mala, which includes the capture of the original captive breeding program animals in the early 1980’s from the Sangster’s Bore area of the Tanami Desert.
“We were also involved in the construction and operation of the first Mala enclosure at Lake Surprise in the Tanami Desert, and the construction and ongoing management of the Mala enclosure at Watarrka National Park in 2000.
“The Mala will be missed, but we know they are going to be in good hands at Newhaven with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, supported by the great work the Warlpiri Rangers carry out removing predators and looking after country.”