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Birriliburu Country. Photo Vanessa Westcott.
Birriliburu Country. Photo Vanessa Westcott.

Birriliburu

Established:

2011

Area:

300,000 ha

Location:

900km NE of Perth, 500km SE of Port Hedland

The Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) in the Little Sandy and Gibson Deserts of Western Australia is roughly the size of Tasmania.

The landscape is astonishingly diverse, ranging from sand dunes and sandstone mountain ranges to salt lakes and claypans. It covers three bio‑geographic regions – the Little Sandy Desert, Gibson Desert and Gascoyne.

The area is home to many nationally significant species such as the Greater Bilby, Mulgara and Marsupial Mole to name just a few.

The Birriliburu Traditional Custodians are the Martu people, whose traditional, ecological and cultural knowledge stretches back more than 40,000 years. They’re determined to continue to protect and preserve the plants, animals and landscapes of the Western Desert region.

The Martu were granted native title to 66,000km2 of their country in 2008. They then established an Indigenous ranger program employing locals from Wiluna and surrounds.

The rangers lead land management activities in the Birriliburu IPA, including reinstating traditional fire patterns, threatened species monitoring and baseline fauna surveys.

Dr Vanessa Westcott and the Birriliburu Rangers. Photo by Annette Ruzicka.

We’ve proudly supported the Birriliburu ranger team since 2013, using ‘two-way’ learning that combines traditional knowledge with western science, particularly with fire ecology. The partnership has provided a chance for cross‑cultural exchange and better outcomes for the people and their land.

Bush Heritage has provided funds for equipment, project resourcing and ranger wages, and the continued support of our Healthy Country Manager to work closely with the rangers.

Desert Support Services are also key partners, working with us on a science and monitoring program focused on fire management, feral animals, threatened species and bush tucker.

Pipijarli or 'Bush carrot' (Parakeelya). Photo Vanessa Westcott.

Embracing traditional knowledge

Birriliburu researchers, land managers and the Birriliburu rangers have brought together science and traditional knowledge to establish a bush tucker database with over 100 plants. Our Healthy Country Manager has been working closely with Martu rangers such as Rita Cutter and Lena Long, to document this knowledge for the first time; recording traditional and scientific names and uses for desert food and medicine plants unique to the region.

n 2024 the Birriliburu Bush Tucker book was launched (available by order) with photographs and explanations to share some of this knowledge.

“Every time we come out with different elders, we fill in some gaps because they remember different names. And that’s really important – to document that knowledge – to make sure it gets passed on.”

Bush Tucker book.
Copies available for order through the Birriliburu Facebook page.

Ranger Leoni Anderson recording feral cat tracks and scats. Photo Vanessa Westcott.

Fire management

The Birriliburu team are using fire management, informed by both traditional knowledge and modern science, to protect areas with significant rock art sites and important habitat.

Mapping of fire scars using satellite imagery enables us to build up an understanding of the fire history of priority areas. We’re also now able to distinguish between fire scars created by ranger burns and those created by wildfire. This mapping allows the rangers to demonstrate the difference they’re making. Gradually, as we create a patchwork of spinifex ages, we expect to see a reduction in the areas impacted by wildfire.

Juvenile Bilby. Photo Margarita Steinhardt (thewildlifediaries.com)

Bilbies

In the south-western pocket of the Birriliburu IPA is Katjarra – a vast landscape and area of significant cultural and ecological value. The hard, red sands provide an ideal breeding habitat for the Greater Bilby (Macrotis lagotis).

Bilby numbers have declined dramatically since European settlement and the population is now estimated to be fewer than 10,000.

Katjarra represents one of the only remaining, confirmed Bilby populations in the south-western extent of their current range, so the Birriliburu rangers, Desert Support Services and Bush Heritage are working together to protect them.

Great Desert Skink

Tjakura

The Great Desert Skink (Tjakura) is another threatened species protected on the IPA. As part of a broader Recovery Plan led by the Indigenous Desert Alliance, monitoring is conducted each March across vast desert regions of Australia.

This image, taken in 2021, of an adult and juvenile in front of their burrow was the first recording of the skinks in the Birriliburu IPA. Motion sensor cameras were installed where burrows and latrine sites seemed to confirm their presence.

The area they were found in had been a focus for Waru (fire) management for the past 10 years. (Their spinifex habitat is vulnerable to wildfires). This shows the great work the Rangers are doing to help protect Country!

Listen

The bilby, the moon and the Birriliburu Rangers >>

Hear from Ann Jones on ABC Radio’s Off Track program, as she chats with Birriliburu Rangers looking after bilbies and Bush Heritage’s own Dr Vanessa Westcott. 

Birriliburu stories

BLOG 05/05/2023

Four reptiles that can brave the desert

It’s a common misconception that Australia's arid regions are uninhabitable or lacking in biodiversity. In fact, a closer look reveals an array of wandering tracks in every direction.

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BLOG 06/04/2023

Five facts about the iconic Bilby 

Here are some facts about the Greater Bilby, and reasons why the Birriliburu Rangers are working so hard to protect it. Move aside Easter Bunny, let’s make way for the Bilby!

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BLOG 01/12/2022

Building networks, sharing knowledge

Knowledge exchanges with other ranger groups and Aboriginal Corporations has been a focus for the Birriliburu Rangers in 2022. Every opportunity has been taken to strengthen ranger networks and learn from others.

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BLOG 10/12/2021

Birriliburu 2021 update

As the year is coming to an end, it is a good time to look back on all that was accomplished by the Birriliburu Ranger team. This year has been busy with continued monitoring of threatened species and introduced predators, fire management trips, testing the new Felixers, progressing the bush tucker book, family trips, weed management and conferences.

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BLOG 17/12/2020

A busy field season for the Birriliburu Rangers!

Fire is a big part of the desert landscape and has been used as a tool for tens of thousands of years. In July and August rangers visited two areas of the Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) to conduct fire management activities.

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BLOG 28/06/2018

Birriliburu Ranger Trip to Mungarlu

The Birriliburu Rangers have completed the first of four trips to Mungarlu in the Little Sandy Desert as part of a federal government grant through the Threatened Species Fund.

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BUSHTRACKS 20/06/2018

Bringing back the Bilby

Rita Cutter and her fellow Birriliburu Rangers refuse to lose the Bilby from their country.

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BLOG 27/11/2017

New Birriliburu spinifex species

A new species of tjanpi (spinifex) has been described and named after Birriliburu country! It's only found in a narrow area of the Little Sandy Desert Bioregion, most often occurring on sand dunes. It's listed as Priority 3 (poorly known) in Western Australia.

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BUSHTRACKS 30/09/2016

Partners in conservation

The Greater Bilby is one of many creatures that have benefited from the meeting of western scientific research and traditional ecological knowledge, since Bush Heritage and our many Aboriginal partners began working together in 2004.

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BLOG 08/09/2016

Aboriginal Rangers visit Canberra

The National Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews invited Indigenous Rangers Rita Cutter, Nolia Napangarti-Ward and her daughter Jodie Ward to Canberra. He asked them to speak about the important work Indigenous Rangers are undertaking across Australia to protect threatened species, manage threats such as feral cats and foxes and strengthen their cultural knowledge and connection to country.

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BLOG 05/07/2016

Indigenous Bilby Festival

I recently returned from a rewarding trip to the first ever Indigenous Bilby Festival with four Birriliburu Rangers: Ruth Wongawol, Caroline Long, Leonie Anderson and Rita Cutter.

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BLOG 13/01/2016

Birriliburu bush tucker update

On behalf of the Birriliburu ranger team, Senior Ranger Rita Cutter recently visited the Western Australian Herbarium to deliver a plant press full of bush tucker specimens.

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BUSHTRACKS 21/09/2015

The future of Birriliburu country in great hands

Since the Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) was established in 2013, Bush Heritage has been fostering a partnership with the traditional owners – the Martu people – and the Central Desert Native Title Services Land and Community Team. The Martu people were granted native title to 136,000 square kilometres of their country in 2002, the largest native title determination in Australian history at the time.

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BLOG 14/07/2015

Birriliburu partnership update

A number of senior staff, including our CEO and two Board members, recently returned from a fantastic trip on country. It marked the start of a new stage for our partnership where Bush Heritage will provide funds for ranger wages and project equipment for the next three years.

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