News from the Field, Press Release

Koalas, birds-of-paradise, and quolls confirmed at new wildlife sanctuary

28 May. 2024

A wildlife sanctuary in coastal New South Wales has been given a new Indigenous name, at the same time as biodiversity surveys revealed an astounding array of native animals and plants, including threatened species, on the property. Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) this week officially launched their conservation program at Waulinbakh Wildlife Sanctuary, which translates as “grey gum place” in the local Gathang language, near the town of Stroud.

Coinciding with the announcement of the new name, AWC also released a collection of images captured by motion-sensor cameras during initial wildlife surveys, which document a rich trove of native animal species living at the forested sanctuary.

“We were thrilled to get clear photos of Paradise Riflebirds on the cameras,” said Andy Howe, Senior Field Ecologist with AWC who leads delivery of the science program at the new site. “Most people would be really surprised to learn that there are birds of paradise so far away from New Guinea, and just a few hours north of Australia’s biggest city,” he said.

 

The lush forest habitat now protected at Gorton Forest Sanctuary
AWC’s newest sanctuary has been renamed from Gorton Forest Sanctuary to Waulinbakh Wildlife Sanctuary. which translates as “grey gum place” in the local Gathang language, near the town of Stroud.

 

During a survey earlier this year, the AWC team snapped photo evidence of the endangered Spotted-tailed Quoll, mainland Australia’s largest marsupial carnivore. Motion-sensor cameras also recorded images of a highly cryptic wallaby species, the Parma Wallaby, which is so rare it was thought to be extinct for several decades until its rediscovery in the 1960’s.

Among other species documented at the sanctuary is the New England Leaf-tailed Gecko, a well camouflaged, nocturnal lizard which was heavily impacted by the Black Summer bushfires, and which is being assessed for endangered species listing. AWC scientists confirmed sightings of the Glossy Black-cockatoo, another species threatened by destructive fires which remove hollow nest sites.

The sanctuary is located in an Area of Regional Koala Significance according to the NSW Government.

 

During biodiversity surveys, ecologists confirmed the presence of an astounding array of native animals including the Koala. Brad Leue/AWC
During biodiversity surveys, ecologists confirmed the presence of an astounding array of native animals including the Koala.

 

“This is prime koala habitat, it has just the right mix of food trees for them,” according to Howe, who has worked extensively with the iconic species in the wild. “It took us a little while, but we’ve now had several sightings as well as camera trap evidence of koalas, including one amazing photo of a mother koala carrying a young joey on her back.”

Waulinbakh Wildlife Sanctuary (pronounced waal-in-back) covers 3,970 hectares and is part of the traditional land of the Worimi people. It forms part of a discontinuous corridor of protected areas stretching from Barrington Tops to Myall Lakes National Park on the coast. The property was previously known as Gorton Forest Estate and was managed for timber harvesting. A recent real estate listing highlighted the potential for harvesting “significant volumes of commercial hardwood timber” from the property. However, when it was purchased by philanthropists Jane and Andrew Clifford in 2022, they committed the property to conservation management, delivered by AWC. AWC undertook a prolonged period of consultation with representatives from Traditional Owner groups to land on the new name for the sanctuary.

The AWC team is now beginning to tackle some of the weeds and feral animals present at the property, including localised infestations of lantana. A fire management strategy is being developed that will include strategic prescribed burning, and efforts will be made to reduce the density of foxes and cats.

 

Among other species documented at the sanctuary is the New England Leaf-tailed Gecko, a well camouflaged, nocturnal lizard which was heavily impacted by the Black Summer bushfires. Brad Leue/AWC
Among other species documented at the sanctuary is the New England Leaf-tailed Gecko, a well camouflaged, nocturnal lizard which was heavily impacted by the Black Summer bushfires.

 

AWC regional operations manager, Aled Hoggett said he was enthusiastic about the potential for the new sanctuary.

“I was already excited by the conservation potential of Waulinbakh,” he said. “After spending more time on sanctuary, I am frankly astounded. The forest across the sanctuary is as diverse, and in as good an ecological condition, as any I have seen on the Mid-north Coast. As conservation activities are delivered, it will only become more impressive over time.”

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