The Western River Refuge is a joint project between Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife and private landholders on Kangaroo Island in South Australia. Established following destructive bushfires in 2020, the project includes a 369-hectare, fenced, feral predator-free safe haven which protects a suite of endemic and endangered wildlife.
Since the extensive wildfires during the summer of 2019/2020, AWC is working with local conservation organisation, Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, and concerned landholders, to help protect the critically endangered Kangaroo Island Dunnart and other threatened species.
Separated from mainland Australia for thousands of years by 15km of the Southern Ocean, South Australia’s Kangaroo Island is a highly regarded ecotourism destination – best known for close encounters with native wildlife.
The island boasts large areas of national park and protected land. Approximately 65 per cent of Kangaroo Island is protected under public and private agreements, with 48 percent remnant native vegetation remaining.
The summer 2019/20 bushfires burnt 210,606 hectares (approximately half) of Kangaroo Island, including the majority of native bushland on western Kangaroo Island and up to 95 per cent of the Kangaroo Island Dunnart’s known range.
Western River Refuge and the De Mole River Catchment (Snug Cove)
Western Kangaroo Island is considered one of South Australia’s major biodiversity hotspots. Two areas located here have become critical natural refuges for the island’s wildlife and the focus of AWC’s involvement.
Protected habitat in the island’s north-west, privately-owned Western River Refuge is home to several threatened species, including the critically endangered Kangaroo Island Dunnart.
Nearby private bushland, in the De Mole River Catchment area, also supports a number of threatened species, including the Kangaroo Island Dunnart. This is the largest area of private bushland that remains unburnt following the summer 2019/20 wildfires.
Kangaroo Island is a biodiversity hotspot due to the range of habitats and the high level of endemism in plants and animals, and a vital stronghold for many threatened species and subspecies.
12 nationally threatened mammal species are found here, including the Kangaroo Island Echidna, Southern Brown Bandicoot and the endangered Kangaroo Island Dunnart.
Approximately 260 bird species call the island home, including threatened species such as the Bassian Thrush, Southern Emu-wren, Glossy Black Cockatoo, and Western Whipbird.
The island is also home to 25 reptile species, including the threatened Heath Monitor, and at least 6 amphibians.
Kangaroo Island contains over 900 plant species, including up to 50 endemic species (mostly found in the island’s west), and 17 nationally threatened species.
There are no foxes or rabbits on Kangaroo Island; however, the feral cat population is higher than mainland Australia, and poses a huge threat to most of the wildlife on the island.
AWC Field Programs
AWC is working with local landholders and conservation organisation, Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife (KI LfW), to protect the Kangaroo Island Dunnart, and other species, within feral a 369-hectare predator-proof safe haven: the Western River Refuge.
The Western River Refuge – an AWC, KI LfW, and private landholder jointly constructed and managed property – was launched in February 2021. The project has received generous financial support from AWC’s New South Wales based partners, WIRES Australian Wildlife Rescue Organisation, and international grant-maker, Fondation Segré.
The refuge offers respite for many other fauna & flora impacted by the fires, including the Kangaroo Island Echidna, Bassian Thrush, Western Whipbird, Heath Monitor, Southern Emu-wren and Southern Brown Bandicoot. The predator-proof fence also excludes feral pigs which are a significant threat to native fauna and flora through predation and spread of the water mould Phytophthora cinnamomi and subsequent dieback of vegetation.
This initial stage of the project, enclosing 13.8 hectares of critical refuge, was completed in February 2020. AWC provided expert staff and equipment to help Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife achieve this project within 6 weeks of the December 2019 bushfires. AWC and KI LfW feral animal control land managers have also been working together to control feral cats since the end of January 2020.
Feral cats occur on Kangaroo Island and can be presumed to hunt more effectively in recently burnt vegetation. The fenced feral cat-free area, constructed by AWC at Western River Refuge in partnership with local landholders and conservation organisation Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, is therefore critical to the future of several species.
The predator-proof fence also excludes feral pigs which are a significant threat to native fauna and flora through predation and spread of the water mould Phytophthora cinnamomi and subsequent dieback of vegetation.