They’re an Australian icon, but Nyamal’s native ranger Danny Brown swears he’s never heard of a bilby – until today.
“Can I just ask our language groups for a show of hands if your crowd is eating the bilbies?” He asks the group.
It’s an unusual question that drives the start of discussions at the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attraction (DBCA) bilby protection workshop.
The room was quiet and a few hands went up.
Mr Brown, also managing director of the Nyamal Aboriginal Corporation, came to the conference from a Pilbara desert and did not appear disturbed.
It turns out that he and his family, like his ancestors, sometimes ate bilbies, but knew them by another name.
âThis lets me understand, because even though we come from a mining region, a lot of our people still eat bush tucker,â he said.
Organized by the Department of Western Australia and the National Environmental Science Program, dozens of indigenous rangers groups from the Kimberley, Pilbara and Central Desert converged on the banks of the Fitzroy River last week to discuss how to better protect the tiny population of bilbies. still living in the northwest.
Talks have been held every few years to track the population, which has been reduced to just 16% in mainland Australia.
Populations are concentrated around areas where indigenous forest rangers already work and have been endangered by threats such as wild cats and foxes, bushfires, and increased pastoral and mining tenures.
The workshop provided an opportunity for ranger groups from across the northwest to collaborate and discuss methods to begin rebuilding the bilby population.
KFC, cat bladders and paw traps
The conference heard from the Kiwirrikurra rangers, a group of women between the ages of 70 and 80, who were responsible for some of the Kimberley’s most successful feral cat trackers.
Speaking in the language, they told tales of chasing cats through the scorching deserts of central Kimberley until they started to tire, before killing them as quickly and as humanely as possible.
The crowd of young rangers listened to the women explain how they offered a $ 100 voucher at their local store for each hunter who brought in a dead wild cat.
Parks and Wildlife Coordinator Bruce Greatwich said the participation of women was crucial for the workshop to run.
“I think these ladies are setting an example there.”
“I think it’s really exciting for these groups to see what’s going onâ¦ and to give them something that they can take home and work for their country.”
Other methods of feral cat control discussed involved trapping the paws and using bait – including an in-depth discussion of why KFC had become a popular alternative to raw chicken breast or a can of open tuna.
Some groups of rangers had also used bladders of dead feral cats to attract others, lured under the pretext of marking their own territory, and animal droppings from litter boxes.
But a new problem is emerging in the northwest.
According to many ranger groups, there has been an increase in the fox population in the area.
Desert rangers have reported an increase in recent years and are advocating point-specific methods to minimize the chance of injuring native animals.
For some, that means targeting foxholes and digging up puppies, and teaming up with larger breeders and mining companies to invest in high-tech trapping systems.
And for Gooniyandi ranger Bevan Green, this is an area that particularly interests his group.
“Help us do our job”
Negotiations to make parts of the Fitzroy River watershed a national park are ongoing, but until then large areas remain guarded by pastoral station gates.
Gooniyandi rangers have to work around landowners to carry out their land management activities, a task they believe can be tricky when it comes to their competing considerations.
“There is an area where the bilbies are based and it is close to one of the stations,” Green said.
âIt is difficult to enter the areas where they are buried, where we have to get a letter asking permission or contact them.
Ranger Russell Chesnut also wants to use meetings with pastors to talk about the future of bilby.
âSome equipment is expensive, so I think it’s going to come down to talking to the ranchers and letting them know where the risk areas are so we can meet halfway,â he said.
Mr Brown said the workshop had also prompted him to seriously think about how land management in the Pilbara would work in the future.
âComing to this workshop, we came as an observer,â he said.
âWe come from a background where a lot of our work revolves around involvement in the mining sector. We could [shift our focus] to land management and the protection of the species that live in our country.
He said he and his family would now think twice before eating what he now knows to be bilby.
“I think after attending this workshop, we will look at ways to protect them,” he said.