Gliders, geckos, bats and dragons – dozens of species detected on Yampi for first time

03 Jul. 2023

Joey Clarke, Senior Science Communicator
Photos by Ian Bool, Field Ecologist

The vast Yampi Peninsula in the northwest Kimberley is part of the traditional lands of the Dambimangari people. It’s also a cradle of biodiversity, located in a part of Australia which has so far avoided the worst ravages of the country’s ongoing extinction crisis.

During the 2022 dry season Dambimangari Rangers, Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) ecologists and volunteers embarked on a massive wildlife survey, which revealed a rich array of animal species at Yampi, many recorded there formally for the first time.

Here’s what they found…

Yampi is the site of the 568,000-hectare Yampi Sound Training Area, where Australian Wildlife Conservancy has been working alongside Dambimangari Traditional Owners under a successful conservation partnership with Defence since 2016.

The property is cloaked in savanna woodlands and grasslands, with dramatic escarpments and sweeping valleys falling away to a complex coastline of inlets, islands, and mangrove forests.

Tall woodlands of Darwin woollybutt (Eucalyptus miniata) provide an abundance of resources for native species, including honeyeaters, lorikeets, possums and gliders.

Following the extension of the conservation partnership with the Department of Defence, AWC and Dambimangari Rangers embarked on a greatly expanded survey program, which kicked off in 2022.

In June, the team of rangers, ecologists, interns and volunteers set out, equipped with an assortment of different traps and motion-trigger cameras – to catch, observe and document the diversity of mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians across the property.

The team carried out 3,120 live-trap nights, which resulted in many new species added to the Yampi species list – a total of 30 new species which had not previously been recorded there by scientists.

This Northern Spiny-tailed Gecko (Strophurus ciliaris) has an unusual defence against predators; it can emit a sticky substance from the spines along its tail.

An incredible 72 species of reptiles were recorded on Yampi during the survey. Australia is a hotspot for diversity of snakes and lizards, and the north-west Kimberley stands out as one of the most species-rich regions in the country. Newly recorded reptiles of interest included the Gracile two-lined dragon (Diporiphora gracilis), and Brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis). 

Nineteen of the reptiles recorded were new additions to the species list for Yampi.

This is the 'Night Tiger' or Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis). It has fangs at the rear of its mouth and feeds on a wide range of small prey including birds, bats, and eggs. Although venomous, this species is not usually considered dangerous to humans.

A total of 45 native species of mammals were recorded during the survey. Of these, seven were newly confirmed for Yampi Sound Training Area.

The Savannah Glider (Petaurus ariel) is a close relative of the Sugar Glider which has only been recognised as a distinct species in recent years. These small possums have a stretchy membrane called a patagium which extends between the fore and hindlimbs, allowing them to hop and glide through the canopy in open forest.

They feed on tree sap, pollen, and nectar from flowering trees, especially eucalypt blossoms. Occasionally they also eat invertebrates.

The Kimberley Brush-tailed Phascogale is an elusive, small carnivorous marsupial which spends more time in the trees than any of its relatives. Records of this species are few and far between. Nocturnal and fast-moving, they can be difficult to detect.

Since AWC's first surveys at Yampi, this species has been recorded very frequently. The region appears to be an important stronghold for the Kimberley Brush-tailed Phascogale.

The endangered Northern Quoll is a species that is disappearing across the north, but it has been recorded in abundance at Yampi.

Known locally as ‘Wijingadda’, quolls have been recorded across almost all habitat types surveyed. Elsewhere, invading cane toads – which continue their westward hop into the region – have taken a heavy toll on Kimberley quoll populations.

Surveillance of the quoll populations at Yampi over the next few years will be crucial to understanding what factors might help the species persist.

The team made several surprising finds as a result of the unprecedented survey effort. The photo below is of a Fat-tailed Pseudantechinus (Pseudantechinus macdonnellensis), a small marsupial in the same family as quolls and phascogales. This little mammal was not known to occur in the Kimberley until AWC surveys in recent years detected it – first at Mornington, and then at Yampi. The new records represent a significant range extension, and the Mornington find was reported in the scientific journal Australian Mammalogy in 2022.

One hundred and thirty-one bird species were detected during the Yampi survey, from acoustic and camera data and incidental records. They included common species like the Spotted Nightjar…

...as well as rare birds like the Gouldian Finch.

The Gouldian Finch has made a recovery in parts of its range in recent years, thanks in part to the restoration of appropriate fire regimes which promote food grasses for this species.

It was one of the four nationally listed threatened bird species recorded on Yampi during the survey.

The huge stratified survey delivered by AWC in 2022 represents the largest inventory survey undertaken on Yampi to date.