That's not my job!

Nathan Beerkens - Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Administration Officer - Arid Recovery

What they didn’t put in the job description

By Milly Breward

This is not my first time in Roxby Downs, my husband and I worked at Downer EDi back in 2008 and I had visited Arid Recovery on several occasions, including an evening with Malcolm Douglas and a visit with a photography group. We returned to Roxby in 2018 and I was thrilled to be offered the position for Administration Officer at Arid Recovery.  I was expecting an office job with admin and finance, what I got has been far more rewarding. I knew I was in the right place when I overheard a conversation discussing who had won at Settlers of Catan, these were my kind of people.

An emu egg I discovered on the Reserve. It must be over 20 years old! Photo: Jamie Breward

So what have I been up to since August 2018?

I started with a board meeting at the reserve which was a great opportunity for me to be introduced. The day was busy but gave me a chance to head to the reserve for a meal under the stars and to meet some of the bettongs, our most inquisitive animals.

Meal under the stars. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

Shortly after this I was given the responsibility of looking after Poo! No, that is not a funny name for the work pet. I was asked if I would be around the office during the day as most people were out and about. I wasn’t planning to go far and so I was asked if I could keep an eye on the poo which was in the oven to make sure it didn’t catch on fire and burn the place down. You really couldn’t make these things up J Sure enough when I checked the oven in the shed there was a terrible smell and lots of flies! I kept a check from a safe distance for the rest of the day.

(Comment from Melissa Jensen, Reintroduction Technical Officer: I bake quoll scats in a 50ºC oven for 24 hours to kill any germs or parasites before I wash and dry them and go digging around in there looking for hairs to ID. This way, we can see what the quolls have been eating).

Handling quoll poo in the lab. Photo: Tessa Manning

October had an opportunity to dress up for the RD Longevity Awards. As a mostly outdoor operation we don’t get much of a chance to dress up so it was great fun going to the awards evening to receive our certificate for 20 years of continuous operation in Roxby Downs.

Roxby Downs Longevity Awards. Photo: Mike Nelson

November was my first chance to see Quolls – I got a phone call from Mel asking if I wanted to meet a quoll and help with the release. Well you don’t have to ask twice! I clocked off and headed out the reserve, trying to think of Quoll related names. I finally met ‘SpringQuoll’ aka Sprinkle and watched as Mel processed her and then held the bag while we drove out to the release location. And of course this was not without incident; apparently once a Quoll wees on you, you are a fully inducted member of Arid Recovery. Well I got that badge.

Baby quoll, with a newly-fitted radio-collar (you can see the antenna on my shirt). Photo: Melissa Jensen 

Another highlight of my year was being part of the Roxby Downs Pageant. Such a great afternoon, although the wind was not in our favour during set up and the heat was almost an issue for Macca the Bilby. Even Arid animals like to hide during extreme weather! But thankfully the evening cooled slightly and the children were thrilled to see one of the stars of the show making an appearance.

Roxby Downs Christmas Pageant, with Mel dressed up as Macca the Bilby. Photo: Jamie Breward

The strangest text message of the year goes to Kath who asked the following… An odd question (you’re probably used to them by now!): Do you have friends in town with cats who could collect urine for lures??... Well I nearly fell off my chair laughing and then, as I tried to think how you would collect cat urine, well I nearly wet myself laughing!

Other highlights have included being part of the team involved with Pitfall trapping. Long hours spent kneeling on the sand with your hand down a hole. Rewards include awesome sun rises and sun sets, the chance to get close to a wide range of animals and time spent with a fantastic group of like-minded individuals.

What a year! The day in the life of an admin chick at Arid Recovery really is never dull. I have been able to do a job I love surrounded by a fantastic group of people for a very worthy cause.

Knob-tailed Gecko caught during pitfall trapping. Photos: Milly Breward and Melissa Jensen

My real job description:

Fun loving, outdoorsy individual, who can juggle office work with random animal adventures. Not put off by poo or walks in the desert. Expect some long hours and fantastic rewards. Office attire includes sturdy shoes, camera and water bottle, just in case.

Arid Recovery Open Day

Nathan Beerkens - Friday, March 29, 2019

Arid Recovery Open Day

By Nathan Beerkens

Last weekend, Arid Recovery (metaphorically) opened its gates to the world for 2019 Open Day - the first time in three years! 130 people arrived, which is a great turnout from a small town like Roxby Downs.

Co-hosted with other BHP community partnerships; Time for Wellbeing, Strengthening our Families and Mining Minds, the event featured many activities to give people a taste of both Arid Recovery and the outback environment.

Families learning how to radio-track wildlife.

Self-guided walks gave visitors an opportunity to explore on their own, Arid Recovery staff gave workshops on tracking wildlife through footprints and radio-antennas, children got dirty in the red sand dunes, our Education Centre became an artistic hub and families learnt to set cage traps for bettongs.

Those doing the footprint tracking found a pleasant surprise – one of our reintroduced quolls had walked over the deck area the night before! (Unfortunately, it didn’t show its face on Open Night).

We also offered literal ‘tastes’ of the outback, with a range of native foods on offer for people to try, including kangaroo sausages and steaks, quandong and lemon myrtle jams, saltbush balsamic vinegar and saltbush dukkah. The native food was kindly sponsored by Roxby Engineering and Fabrication and Inspiring South Australia’s Far North Science Hub .

A visit from Macca the Bilby mascot is always exciting, but not nearly as exciting as seeing real-life Australian wildlife up-close. Under the watchful eye of Arid Recovery staff, visitors set cage traps before sunset, and returned to check them half an hour after dark. To the crowd’s delight, they returned to see a burrowing bettong hopping around the traps. For many people, this was the first time in their lives that they had seen this rare and endlessly curious animal.

The bettong investigated the traps for a while and then hopped off into the darkness, so we went and checked the traps. Two lucky families caught bettongs, which were quietly bagged up, ready to be processed.

Burrowing bettong, showing off its unique eartag. Photo: Claire Coulson

Processing bettongs means to weigh, sex and measure them. It is a critical part of Arid Recovery’s monitoring program, and gives us an indication of the animal’s health and reproductive status. Each time a new bettong is caught, it is given an ear-tag with a unique number so that we can follow it throughout its life.

To give full credit to the children present, they were very quiet and respectful around the bettongs, as they watched Arid Recovery staff do the processing. Credit to the bettongs as well, who were very obliging.

Thanks to everyone who came out, especially those who travelled from far and wide for the event. And thanks to our community partners and volunteers for all their assistance on the day. We couldn't have done it without you.

Missed out on Open Day and want to see the Reserve? You can join us for a Sunset Tour or the Roxby Discovery Tour, April – October. Bookings can be made through the Roxby Downs Visitor Information Centre  by calling (08) 8671 5941.

Annual Trapping 2019

Nathan Beerkens - Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Annual Trapping 2019

By Courtney Proctor (Arid Recovery Conservation Intern)

Another year, another annual pitfall trapping session done and dusted! With the weather in Roxby Down’s deciding it was the perfect time to try and mimic the core temperature of the sun, this year’s session was delayed and went for 4 consecutive days instead of the usual 5 due to the risk trapping in extreme heat can pose to our unique animals. Nevertheless, our group of enthusiastic volunteers and dedicated staff members kept themselves busy with other work through the delays and on Tuesday the 5th of March, 4 days after the initial planned start date, we were able to begin the session.  

Staff and volunteers hard at work digging in the pitfall lines. (Photos: Nathan Beerkens & Melissa Jensen)

Each year we alternate between dune and swale sites, both inside and outside the reserve. This year was the year of the swale. The first morning consisted of us digging trenches and erecting low fence-lines running through the middle of our pitfall traps. As we were on the swale we often hit hard rock and clay while digging but luckily for us the pitfall traps themselves were already dug in from previous years. Newly improved false floors were used in the bottom of pits for the second year in a row as a way to provide small reptiles a place to hide from any peckish mammals that were also caught.

A large Central Netted Dragon sitting above a false floor. Smaller reptiles can fit through the gaps on the edges to hide on the real floor. (Photo: Melissa Jensen)

Once set-up was complete, each site was checked for all animals and invertebrates in the early hours of the morning and late in the afternoon as the sun was setting. Each individual animal caught in the traps was placed into his (or her) own carefully labelled catch bag and transported back to the lab for processing.

Left to right: Volunteer Shoshona Rapley collecting animals; Arid Recovery staff member Melissa Jensen securing animals for transport; Stripe-faced Dunnart in a catch bag. (Photos: Katherine Tuft & Milly Breward)

The animals are the star of the show back at the lab, with each individual identified, weighed, measured and photographed. After being processed, the animals are kept safely and comfortably in the lab until evening where they are then released back at the same site they were captured at.

Left to right: Earless Gibber Dragon; Plains Mouse drinking sugar water; volunteer Georgia Kelly releasing a Broad-banded Sand-swimmer; Beaked Gecko being released. (Photos: Melissa Jensen, Lee Thulborn & Courtney Proctor)

The data collected from these trapping sessions each year is extremely important as it provides Arid Recovery with accurate long-term data. This year’s data was of particular interest to Arid Recovery to see the effects the lack of rain and hot summer may have had on the abundance and diversity of the small mammals and reptiles found inside and outside the reserve.

Left to right: Fat-tailed Gecko; Smooth Knob-tailed Gecko; Fat-tailed Dunnart; Broad-banded Sand-swimmer. (Photos: Courtney Proctor, Melissa Jensen & Nathan Beerkens)

This year we caught and released a total of 149 animals consisting of 17 species of reptiles (126 individuals) and 4 species of mammals (23 individuals). Excitingly this year we saw a reappearance of the native Bolam’s Mouse (Pseudomys bolami), which hasn’t been seen at the reserve since 2016! We captured 2 individual Bolam’s mice, however our most common mammal was the Stripe-faced Dunnart (Sminthopsis macroura) with 13 captures. The most common reptile was the Royal Ctenotus (Ctenotus regius) with 23 captures. We also caught a grand total of 153 invertebrates consisting mainly of our eight-legged spider friends.

Left to right: Bolam’s Mouse; Royal Ctenotus; Stripe-faced Dunnart. (Photos: Melissa Jensen, Georgia Kelly & Milly Breward)

This survey would not have been possible without the commitment of staff and volunteers. This year we had 16 people contribute to the trapping session including staff from Arid Recovery, Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary, BHP Olympic Dam, RoxFM and volunteers from Roxby Downs and Adelaide. Arid Recovery would like to say a huge thank-you to all of those who gave up their time to help us complete another successful annual trapping session and we hope you enjoyed your time with us!

Some of the staff and volunteers who contributed to this year’s annual trapping session. (Photo: Melissa Jensen)

Year of the Quoll

Nathan Beerkens - Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Year of the Quoll – A reintroduction update

By Nathan Beerkens

2018 was a big year. After two years of trials and research, it was time to officially reintroduce Western Quolls to the Arid Recovery Reserve.

In May, it happened. 12 quolls made the journey back to the outback, eight females and four males.

Western Quolls used to live across 70% of the Australian continent, but now survive in less than 2% of that. Ten of our quolls came from Western Australia (Dryandra and Julimar), and two came from a recently reintroduced population in South Australia’s Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park.

A western quoll with a radio-collar and eartag. Photo: Melissa Jensen

So, how have they gone? In short - very well.

Before the release, all of the quolls were fitted with radio-collars, so that we could track their movements and learn as much as possible about how they survive in the arid landscape.

Since then, we have tracked them to over 400 locations. Quolls are nocturnal, so we normally find the burrows they are using, rather than the quolls themselves (although one day we found two quolls mating under a bush in broad daylight!).

Almost every time we find a quoll, it is sleeping in a bettong warren. Interestingly, these warrens often still have bettongs in them. Using bettong warrens allows the quolls to escape the scorching desert heat and hide from diurnal predators such as wedge-tailed eagles. They have also occasionally been found using bilby burrows. Most of the warrens they have been found in are on sand dunes with Acacia and Dodonaea shrubs, but they have also used warrens in mulga patches, saltbush swales and dry canegrass swamps.

Bettong warren on a sand dune - the most common shelter type used by quolls at Arid Recovery. Ruler placed at burrow entrance for scale. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

From all this tracking, we’ve been able to map their home ranges. The biggest is over 3,000 hectares (for one of our males). The smallest home range, from a female, is still large at over 800 hectares. You can see the home ranges for two of our females below (over 1,000 and 1,400 hectares each).

The home ranges of two female quolls; 'Andamooka' (yellow - 1445 ha) and 'Mulgaria' (blue - 1074 ha). This map was created from all data obtained for each quoll from date of release to October 22 2018. Initial post-release dispersal may mean that the home ranges displayed are overestimates of their current range. Further refinement and data analysis is underway. Image copyright Arid Recovery.

We’re also happy to report that no quolls have entered the Main Exclosure – a 14km2 pen which is separated from the rest of the Reserve by floppy-topped fencing, foot-netting and two electric wires. By keeping this pen quoll-free, we can compare the abundance of our other reintroduced animals, (such as western barred bandicoots and stick-nest rats), in areas with and without quolls to see if they have any impacts. A lot of effort has gone into keeping this fence operational. We’d like to say thanks to the two teams from Conservation Volunteers Australia who replaced kilometres of old foot-netting this year.

Conservation Volunteers Australia team rolling out foot-netting to 'quoll-proof' the Main Exclosure. Photo: Kathryn Hastie.

Followers of our social media accounts will also know that our quolls have been breeding. There are 30 babies in total, with five mother quolls having six each. The adults began mating almost immediately after arriving at Arid Recovery in May, with their babies born in June and July – western quolls are pregnant for only 18 days!

Since then, the young have been living with their mothers in bettong warrens and are now starting to explore the Reserve on their own. We’ve put radio-collars on 10 of them, so that we can see what they get up to (five males and five females, from three families). At the same time, we’re taking collars off the adults. The babies’ collars will fall off by themselves.

Quoll population trends will continue to be monitored through our quarterly track counts, which is how we monitor all of our reintroduced species, with the addition of spot identification from camera trap images. Each quoll has a unique pattern of spots so volunteers can help us identify individual quolls from photos taken by Reconyx camera traps, which we received thanks to a grant from the Wettenhall Environment Trust.

The first baby captured and tagged; a young male nicknamed Bowie. Photo: Melissa Jensen

There’s still so much to learn and we will be studying quolls and their interactions with other species for a long time to come.

For now though, it’s seven months into the program and we’re very pleased with how it’s gone.

Another big thank you to everyone who has volunteered their time and supported the reintroduction. Special shout-out to our interns and long-term volunteers -  Ben Stepkovitch, Kirra Bailey, Samantha Bryson-Kirby, Kaely Kreger, Finella Dawlings, Brianna Coulter and Anna Rogers - who have put a lot of time and effort into tracking and trapping these beautiful and elusive predators.

Stay tuned for more.

Intern Anna Rogers bagging quoll scat for diet analysis. Photo: Melissa Jensen

Our Secret to a Long Life

Nathan Beerkens - Thursday, November 15, 2018

Our Secret to a Long Life

By Kath Tuft

We recently won an award for one of our most incredible but ordinary-sounding achievements; just hanging around for 20 years!

The Roxby Downs Business Longevity Awards was a swish evening where local businesses gathered to celebrate sticking it out in Roxby Downs and Olympic Dam, and share their stories of endurance and success. It might seem tokenistic, but it is no small feat.  And the key to Arid Recovery’s success is the unwavering commitment from our founders and partners; BHP, the SA Department for Environment and Water, the University of Adelaide and most recently, Bush Heritage Australia.

Roxby Downs Business Longevity Awards 2018; Nicole Montgomerie (BHP), Hannah Bannister (UNSW), Melissa Jensen (Arid Recovery), Milly Breward (Arid Recovery), Kath Tuft (Arid Recovery) & Andrew Winterfield (BHP). Photo: Mike Nelson.

It is generally easier to get funding for something new and exciting, compared to “old stories” or ongoing efforts. “Help us keep things ticking along” is not a great sales pitch. Indeed, there are at least four other fenced reserves similar to Arid Recovery that were built on a surge of enthusiasm but that have quietly fallen to pieces over the years - losing their animals and so much of their hard work forgotten – because the ongoing commitment faltered for various reasons. 

Our longevity as a small not-for-profit conservation organisation way out in the desert is due in large part to the consistent support of our corporate partner BHP, and WMC before them. We have never had to invest large chunks of income back into raising more funds. Keeping Arid Recovery running is no small thing - all the fence maintenance it requires, the people needed to be available 24/7 to respond to incursions, carefully guiding reintroductions, and coordinating all the fantastic volunteers who want to contribute. None of that is possible without a consistent commitment of support.

Also critical to our long term success are our founders John Read and Katherine Moseby who have stayed with us through thick and thin. John worked as an environmental scientist at the Olympic Dam mine in the 1990s, and Katherine worked as an ecologist in the region. Together, their enthusiasm for the project inspired many Roxby Downs locals and businesses to volunteer their time and services to construct the first fence and do the first reintroductions. Their institutional knowledge continues to assist us on a weekly basis. Read more about their stories here.

Arid Recovery's founders; John Read and Katherine Moseby.

Olympic Dam also celebrates a milestone this year – with BHP marking 30 years of operation. I had the pleasure of meeting BHP’s other South Australian community partners at an event last week: the Art Gallery of South Australia, Kokatha Aboriginal Corporation and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. We talked about the great work they are doing and flagged some interesting collaborations we could pursue. This year we’re working with Kokatha to ramp up control of introduced predators on Kokatha land around the Arid Recovery Reserve, aiming to have that country support bettongs, bilbies and quolls again one day.

We’re looking forward to catching up with many of you at the Roxby Downs Family Day celebration this Saturday. As our community marks 30 years of Olympic Dam and the Roxby Downs community, I want to thank BHP for their consistent and generous support of Arid Recovery over the years and look forward to all that we’ll achieve together in the next 30.

Isle of the Stickies

Nathan Beerkens - Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Isle of the Stickies

By Nathan Beerkens

This is a story of adventure and discovery. A story of hope and success. A story of rats.

Almost 30 years ago, to save the species, greater stick-nest rats (aka. ‘stickies’) were reintroduced to Reevesby Island, off the coast of Port Lincoln, South Australia. Question is though; are they still there?

A recent survey team (not looking for stick-nest rats) reported that they didn’t see any sign of them. Not good.

If stickies have disappeared from Reevesby, then that is a major blow to the global population, which exists on only a few islands and mainland fenced reserves.

Reevesby Island. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

So, last week, the Arid Recovery team, alongside the Department for Environment and Water’s Peter Copley, went down to the island to survey them. Why Arid Recovery? Well, stickies were reintroduced to the Arid Recovery Reserve in 1998 from Reevesby (and are still going well). So, it was fitting that we help to keep tabs on our source population. As for Peter Copley, he is the foremost authority on stick-nest rats and a key reason why they were reintroduced to Reevesby Island in the first place.

Team ready, we headed to the island. We were looking for any sign that they were still alive. These could be tracks, scats, runways through bushes, stick-nest homes, or in the best case scenario, live stickies. To find live animals, we had Elliott traps and spotlights.

Elliott trap set in the vegetation. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

We covered the whole island (420ha) in our search and found many different types of animals. Some of these were very close encounters, including three death adders next to our tents, black tiger snakes slithering through camp and a white-faced storm petrel which flew into ecologist Georgie Neave’s face. There were also boisterous colonies of little penguins, families of Cape Barren geese, flocks of rock parrots and barn owls nesting on the coastal cliffs.

Death Adder. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

But were there any stickies?

Our Elliott traps revealed two species of mammals; house mice and…stick-nest rats! We found plentiful signs of stickies all over the island. There were runways through the plants, scats in the old homestead and tracks on the beach. Their characteristic stick-nests were also common, built around the base of tall shrubs.

Stickie tracks on the beach. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

While we caught a few using Elliott traps, spotlighting proved very effective, and by the end of the survey we had caught and measured 19 stickies. We also took samples of their ectoparasites (mites, ticks and fleas), and DNA for future studies. The fleas are an interesting one; it’s thought that these island stickies have a unique species of flea, which may have followed them to Arid Recovery… Did we translocate an endangered flea to the desert?? Studies will tell.

Stickie being released. Photo: Kath Tuft/Arid Recovery

All up, it was a very successful week, for both science and the stickies. It is a great relief to know that this vital population is still going strong. Hopefully it will continue to be monitored and can be used as a source for more reintroductions in the years to come.

Reevesby Island survey team: Georgie Neave, Kath Tuft, Melissa Jensen, Nathan Beerkens and Peter Copley. Photo: Melissa Jensen

Building a Stickie Haven

Nathan Beerkens - Friday, August 17, 2018

Building a Stickie Haven

By Nathan Beerkens

This year, Arid Recovery turns 21. And, for the first time in its history, the Research Station has been fenced off.

We've done this for two reasons:

Reason 1: Keep the bettongs out.

Our burrowing bettongs are notoriously cheeky animals that will investigate anything. They are endlessly curious and have no issues about coming onto our deck in the hope of sniffing out dinner. Whilst this is, admittedly, very cute, it's not what we want. We don't want these animals to be habituated to humans. We want them to be wild and fend for themselves, which they will have to be to survive outside fenced reserves again.

Bettong investigating a camp oven. Photo: Kath Tuft

What's the easiest way to solve this problem? Fence them out. We operate the largest fenced reserve in the country...there's plenty of other spaces for them to explore.

(It's also important to note that no matter how much they've tried, or how cute they've looked, we've never fed them!)

Emily Gregg and a curious bettong on the Research Station deck.

Reason 2: Promote the stickies.

Our stick-nest rats (lovingly referred to as stickies) are one of the rarest of our reintroduced mammals and are very shy creatures. There's also a family of them that live under the Research Station. Sometimes they even join us for late-night showers in the outhouse.

Stickie in the outhouse shower. Photo: Melissa Jensen

They've been declining in the reserve recently as bettongs have become overpopulated. They also suffer from a lot of bad press, just because they are called 'rats' (even though they're great!). This new fenced area gives us a great opportunity to show people first-hand how fabulous stickies are and that rats aren't scary.

The holes in the wire mesh of the fence are too small for bettongs, but big enough for stickies to come and go as they please. We've also replanted a lot of native species that stickies love, to try and attract them into our new "garden". Soon, people joining us for one of our Sunset Tours will have a better chance than ever to see stickies up close and personal and see just how cool these rats really are.

Re-planting natives in the new garden.

How did we fund this?

Thanks to you. Last year we ran a social media campaign called #StickieSeptember, introducing people to stick-nest rats and showing off all of their home-building prowess and grand designs.

This campaign was picked up by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers, and led to a huge influx of stickie adoptions and donations by the public to build this stickie haven. Until this campaign, stickies were by far our least popular animal to adopt.

So thank you again to all of the people who supported this effort, and thank you to the Roxby Downs locals who came out to build the fence last Sunday. We encourage everyone to come out and see the final product in person.

Volunteers hard at work fencing off the Research Station (the outhouse is in the background).

Meet the Kowari

Nathan Beerkens - Friday, August 03, 2018

Meet the Kowari

By Nathan Beerkens

What if I told you there was an animal like no other?

An animal the size of your hand that pronks like a gazelle, has a tail that’s half antenna/half paintbrush, smells like a mop and has a wet button nose the colour of a rose?

What if I told you that this animal was a feisty hunter that lives in some of the harshest and most desolate landscapes on Earth?

What if I told you this animal was real?

Well it is. Meet the Kowari.

Kowari (Dasyuroides byrnei). Photo: Nathan Beerkens

This is a truly fantastic beast that lives in the Sturt Stony Desert, deep in outback South Australia and Queensland. It’s elusive, it’s shy and it’s very hard to find.

And it’s getting rarer. First discovered by western science in 1895, it has disappeared from the Northern Territory and from many sites in both SA and QLD. Worryingly, once it disappears from a site, it struggles to return. This is different to similar species in the area, like the crest-tailed mulgara, which have been travelling hundreds of kilometres over the past 25 years and recolonising their old homes.

Kowari distribution (Adapted from Woinarski et al. 2012). Grey = bioregions that kowaris exist in. Red = places they've disappeared from (not recorded since before 1993). Green = records since 1993.

More worrying still, the kowaris has also been declining in its remaining strongholds, so much so that it should probably be classified as Endangered (paper by Greenville et al. to be published soon in the Australian Journal of Zoology).

So, how do you conserve an animal that is found on no national parks in SA, no fenced reserves anywhere, lives in the most barren landscapes in the middle of nowhere and that virtually no-one has ever heard of?

It’s going to need a lot of collaborations. This need has driven the formation of a new Kowari Group, made up of scientists and land managers involved with this elusive animal. They are from a diverse mix of government, pastoralism, not-for profit organisations, consultants and universities, and are putting their heads together to conserve kowaris.

The vast gibber landscape of the Sturt Stony Desert. Photo: Alison Skinner.

The remaining South Australian populations (all on pastoral land) have been closely surveyed by the South Australian Department for Environment and Water for the past two decades. The Queensland Department of Environment and Science and Australian Wildlife Conservancy are monitoring kowari populations in Queensland’s Diamantina and Astrebla Downs National Parks. Researchers at the University of Sydney are piecing all the information together to measure how drastically the kowari numbers have fallen and are working with the Kowari Group to find out why they are struggling to return to their old habitats.

Kowari in it's gibber habitat. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

Arid Recovery is also taking part. Joining a SA Department for Environment and Water kowari survey in May this year, we were able to view the plight of the kowari first-hand. In the future, bringing kowaris to Arid Recovery (which is on the edge of their former range) provides a feral-free sanctuary and an opportunity to learn about what they need to survive in other areas. If a secure population can be established at Arid Recovery, it could then be used to bolster dwindling wild populations and restock locally extinct ones.

We’re all working together, exploring all the options to try and save this wonderful, weird, spunky and adorable Aussie battler.

It’s not an icon yet, but it should be.

Kowari survey team May 2018; Rob Brandle, Hamish Longbottom, Kath Tuft, Tali Moyle, Cat Lynch, Amanda McLean, Billy La Marca, Alison Skinner & Nathan Beerkens.

Community Update

Nathan Beerkens - Tuesday, July 10, 2018

It’s a Community Effort

By Nathan Beerkens

In between chasing quolls and fixing fences, Arid Recovery also does a lot of community engagement. This blog is going to talk about some of our activities in the past few months.

Dads and Kids Event

What a great event this was. Teaming up with local community groups Strengthening Our Families and Mining Minds, we hosted 35 Dads and Kids on the Reserve with activities like scavenger hunts, GPS orienteering, races, campfires, BBQ dinner and spotlighting. We’re happy to report that the kids slept really well that night! Given its popularity, we’ll be hosting another event soon...keep an eye out for dates.

Marshmallows on sticks were a favourite. Photo: Kaely Kreger

Wildlife, Cake and Cocktails

Our Principal Scientist, Katherine Moseby, featured on the new podcast Wildlife, Cake and Cocktails, talking about the successes of Arid Recovery and arid-zone conservation over the past 20 years in a special episode about the Book of Hope. This is a new book by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub, full of inspirational Australian conservation success stories. Listen here, our feature starts at 24:18.

Listen to the podcast on Soundcloud here.

School and University Camps

We have recently hosted camps for the Coober Pedy Area School and University of Adelaide Law School. For the Coober Pedy Year 7/8 class, it was a chance to learn bush skills like tracking and GPS, whilst the University's visit gave budding lawyers a taste of life in the bush. For many, this was their first time camping, using outhouses and having no Vodafone reception. The students watch how we work, live as we live and meet some real country characters. We hope it not only pushed their boundaries, but gave them a great experience while doing so.

University of Adelaide Law School.

Totally Wild

We have featured on kids TV show Totally Wild! We're appearing in three episodes, talking about what its like to work at Arid Recovery, our bettongs and stick-nest rats. The bettong episode will air Saturday August 18 at 8.30am and feature Holly Cope, a PhD student from the University of Sydney studying bettong contraception. This will be followed by the stick-nest rat episode on Tuesday August 21 at 8am. The first episode has already aired and you can watch it here. Our segment starts at 19:46.

Watch our first Totally Wild episode here.

North West Pastoral Field Day

We joined forces with Bush Heritage Australia to host a stall at the SA Department of Environment and Water’s Pastoral Field Day in the small town of Glendambo, SA. 230 people descended upon the town of two petrol stations and a pub and it was a great opportunity to network with local landholders and talk about our conservation and research activities. We also hosted a workshop for School of the Air students, to teach them about outback wildlife and snake safety.

Big turnout at the Glendambo Pastoral Field Day.


And our tours are as popular as ever. The grey nomad migration is in full swing, with people coming from far and wide to witness Lake Eyre filling and explore the Northern Territory. Our Olympic Dam Discovery Tour buses are full and there have been many people joining us for Sunset Tours to find our rare wildlife up close. Thanks also to the people who have begun leaving reviews on our TripAdvisor, we really appreciate it.

Burrowing bettongs are always exciting to see on a Sunset Tour. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

Raving for Science

Nathan Beerkens - Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Raving for Science

By Natasha Tay, Murdoch University

Ever thought you’d spend two weeks in the bush giving bettongs rave party feet and putting them on a runway for science? Well that’s how I spent this Mad May.

My PhD investigates anti-predator behaviour in marsupials, focuses on how anatomy affects their physical ability to escape from predators. We know that introduced predators are a major threat to our native fauna outside of fenced areas. Critical weight range marsupials (35g – 5.5kg), like bandicoots and bettongs, are especially vulnerable as they are the perfect size for cats and foxes to chomp on. Lots of work in Australian has focused on whether our marsupials recognise cats and foxes as predators, and then trying to teach our fauna to be more ‘predator-savvy’. Arid Recovery’s prey naivety project is a great example of this. But recognising a potential predator is only the first step - how the prey species responds to an interaction with that predator will ultimately determine their survival.

Burrowing bettong. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

Imagine you’re a marsupial and a hungry predator has its eye on you. It’s getting a bit too close for comfort so you decide to flee - but how? You really only have two options: you either outrun your attacker or outmanoeuvre it.

Over the past year I have been studying the anatomy of marsupials to determine their locomotor ability. I do this by analysing the size and shape of their muscles and bones. To proof my anatomical findings, I am recording how these same species move in the field.

At Arid Recovery, I released burrowing bettongs and western barred bandicoots down a runway to determine how fast they could flee and what type of path they would take - a straight bolt, or would they zig-zag in an attempt to confuse/outmanoeuvre the predator? Watch a video here.

To track each animal’s escape path I used fluorescent powder for foot prints and also filmed the runway from multiple angles.

Bettong foot being covered in UV dust. Photo: Melissa Jensen

UV bettong footprints in the sand. Photo: Natasha Tay

As my PhD progresses, I will be adding more species to my fieldwork list. If you’d like to keep updated on my PhD progress, please visit the Western WEB page.

Thanks very much to the staff and volunteers at Arid Recovery who assisted me with fieldwork.


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Arid recovery is a conservation initiative supported by:
adelaide university