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Rock-wallabies unveiled on Yourka

Published 21 Dec 2013 

Bush Heritage Director of Science, Jim Radford, shares his excitement over confirmation of the long‑suspected presence on Yourka Reserve of the elusive rock‑wallaby.

Mareeba rock wallaby captured on web camMareeba Rock Wallaby captured on a motion sensing camera on Yourka Reserve.

"You little beauty!" and a muted fist‑pump greeted the first image of a rock‑wallaby that flashed across fauna consultant Terry Reis' computer screen. Terry had just downloaded the images from the six cameras he had set up five days earlier on Tiger Mountain, near the southern boundary of Yourka Reserve.

This was, at last, irrefutable evidence of rock‑wallabies on Yourka, confirming once and for all they are present on the reserve - and re‑affirming that fleeting glimpses during initial property assessments were indeed rock‑wallabies.

Until that first almost other‑worldly image appeared on the screen, nothing was taken for granted

– Dr Jim Radford, Bush Heritage Australia

We had seen rock‑wallaby scats when installing and collecting the cameras so we were confident of ‘capturing' one on camera. But until that first almost other‑worldly image appeared on the screen, nothing was taken for granted.

Mareeba rock wallabyMareeba rock wallaby. Photo: Wayne Lawler / Ecopix

After all, this was the culmination of a week's worth of scrambling and climbing amongst the rocky outcrops, creeklines and rugged hilltops of Yourka looking for suitable rock‑wallaby habitat.

Terry, Murray Haseler (Bush Heritage Ecologist), Paul Hales (Reserve Manager) and I had searched all the suitable terrain on Yourka, looking for scats and signs of occupation.

Cameras were then deployed at three locations. To date, two of those - Tiger Mountain and ‘The Falls' - have captured rock‑wallabies on camera. Given that these areas are around six kilometres apart, we can now confidently say that rock‑wallabies are present at two sites on Yourka.

While DNA analysis of hair samples is needed to absolutely determine which species of rock‑wallaby is present, the most likely, based on known species distributions and distinguishing features discernible from the photos, is the Mareeba rock‑wallaby Petrogale mareeba.

Yourka Reserve escarpment Mareeba rock wallabies prefer escarpment habitats. Photo: Wayne Lawler / Ecopix

This is great news for Bush Heritage supporters as the Mareeba rock‑wallaby is Near Threatened under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act, and has found safe refuge on Yourka Reserve.

The Tiger Mountain group appears secure as only extreme fire events could threaten them. The group at The Falls is surrounded by lantana that could pose a potential threat during a large bushfire. To improve their long‑term security, thinning of the lantana and other fire management work is scheduled for later in the season.

Our next steps are to determine the size of the rock‑wallaby groups and the level of interaction between them. But, after six years, the primary aim of confirming their presence on Yourka Reserve has been achieved!

The vital role you play in protecting biodiversity

Purchased in 2007 through the generosity of Bush Heritage supporters, Yourka Reserve in Far North Queensland is a conservation stronghold for 39 regional ecosystems - some of which are not protected anywhere else.

Nestled up against Queensland's Wet Tropics World Heritage area, its rich animal life includes the nationally vulnerable masked owl (northern) and a suite of mammals including gliders, possums, bettongs and bandicoots.

The confirmation of the presence of the elusive rock‑wallaby on the reserve only underlines the importance of the role played by you and other Bush Heritage supporters in protecting the region's biodiversity. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible!