Massive new Indigenous Protected Area declared

By Victoria Laurie 19 April 2010
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Kalka-Pipalyatjara, a newly protected, Aboriginal-managed region of South Australia is home to numerous endangered species.

THE BLACK-FOOTED ROCK wallaby, or Warru, and the great desert skink, or Tjakura, have been granted safe haven in spectacular country in South Australia, after 580,000 hectares of low ranges and sand dunes were this month declared an Indigenous Protected Area (IPA).

The title means that this area of indigenous-managed land has been added to the National Reserve System, a venture aimed at securing the future of important native habitats across Australia. There are 37 other IPAs around the country — in all cases, traditional owners entered into an agreement with the Australian Government to work to promote biodiversity and cultural resource conservation on their land.

Dwindling wallaby populations

The latest addition, the Kalka-Pipalyatjara Indigenous Protected Area on Anangu-Pitjantjatjara-Yankunytjara lands, is nestled in the north-west corner of SA, where three state borders meet. The Tomkinson and Mann Ranges in the north are home to one of the few remaining colonies of black-footed wallabies. Active nests of the threatened mallee fowl have also been spotted in the area, as well as the great desert skink.

Ranger and community leader Kenneth Ken says declaring the protected area will help conserve dwindling populations of the wallaby, mallee fowl and the great desert skink — a robust lizard that grows up to 40 cm long and has reddish-tan skin and cream flanks.

“We are starting land management because [these lizards] might be dying out,” Kenneth says. Once a traditional food source, the great desert skink is culturally significant to the Anangu people and there are a number of dreaming sites dedicated to the Tjakura across the new IPA. The key threats to the species are thought to be unfavourable fire regimes and predation by feral cats and foxes.

Employment for Aboriginal people

The new IPA is a vital geographical link in a chain of other protected areas, including the Ngaanyatjarra IPA in Western Australia, and the Watarru IPA in the Northern Territory. Together, they form a continuous conservation corridor of more than 12 million hectares. Ranger groups located in three states will share cross-border activities like feral animal control, fencing and surveying plants and animals.

“It gives traditional owners the capacity to look after their country properly, which has social, cultural and environmental benefits,” says Cliff Cobbo, policy manager for WWF’s Conservation on Country program. “It gives people real jobs.”

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett calls Indigenous Protected Areas “one of Australia’s most successful conservation stories – protecting Australia’s biodiversity while providing training and employment for Aboriginal people doing work to look after their own country.”

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A map of Australia’s Indigenous Protected Areas