By ERWIN CHLANDA
How are bilbies doing? This is the question Aboriginal rangers are hoping to answer in a cross-border program starting at Easter.
A century ago, bilbies occupied almost all the dry areas of Australia, more than three quarters of the continent.
Their range has shrunk by more than 80% and today they mostly survive on Aboriginal managed land in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, from western NT across the central deserts of WA to the Dampier Peninsula, according to the Central Land Council (CLC).
There are also isolated populations in south-west Queensland.
Bilbies are threatened by feral foxes and cats, changed fire regimes and the impact of feral horses, donkeys, camels, rabbits and cattle.
They are important to Aboriginal people who know them by many different names, for example they are called ninu in Pintupi. They have been a source of food and adornments and feature in song lines and ceremonies, says the CLC.
The “Bilby Blitz” is hosted by the CLC, a member of the Indigenous Desert Alliance (IDA), with funding from the Commonwealth.
A bilingual Tracks app used in the survey allows to switch between English and Warlpiri and is ready to be translated into other Aboriginal languages.
Rangers will use the app to conduct an initial series of cross border base line surveys of bilby tracks, scats, diggings and burrows across the mammal’s range in an area of millions of hectares.
The method is using the tracking skills of Aboriginal people who search areas of two hectares for signs of the animal and record them on their phones or mobile devices.
Because the data is collected in a standardised way the results can be compared across sites and time and more thoroughly analysed.
The CLC says its threatened species system links to the CSIRO’s Atlas of Living Australia where the data is stored, managed and analysed. It allows a ranger group’s data to be analysed in isolation, for example to detect local changes to biodiversity.
The data can also be analysed more broadly across all app users in the desert, for example to monitor the impact of feral animals, weeds or climate change on native animals.
IMAGES: CLC, Australian Geographic (bilby). Group: CLC rangers field test the Tracks app under the guidance of Arrernte elder Veronica Dobson near Titjikala in February 2018.
By ERWIN CHLANDA