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The Australian Wildlife Conservancy is collaborating with traditional owners to preserve the Central Australian environment for generations.

A partnership between the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and the traditional owners of the Ngalurrtju Aboriginal Land Trust is now protecting an extra 338,000 hectares of Central Australian land.

The land on the eastern edge of the Great Sandy Desert bio-region in the Northern Territory sits adjacent to the AWC’s Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary, bringing almost 600,000 hectares of the country’s red centre under conservation management.

“The program is rich and deep,” says Josef Schofield, AWC Regional Operations Manager (Central and South Australia) at AWC.

“We're not only going in and trying to look after the animals that live there – we're looking after the whole of the landscape, and that includes deep consideration of the socio-political landscape, the cultural landscape, the diverse ecology of the region, and the way all of those things interact with each other.”

A key component of the Ngalurrtju Partnership is to provide the land’s traditional owners, which comprise four estate groups, with the opportunity to do conservation work on their own country. Two Indigenous ranger teams, comprised of eight paid positions, are working with AWC to deliver the conservation land management program.

AWC also plans to provide training opportunities for rangers to develop skills in contemporary conservation land management techniques.

“If you want to have a successful conservation program through time, you can't just be outsiders that come in and do it – it needs to be from within the community,” says Josef.

“When you're just running a small program in a remote desert area such as Newhaven, you've got high staff turnover and are always battling that attrition of knowledge. Whereas if you expand that out, and it becomes a community-wide focus working with First Nations people specifically, you've got people that are going to be there for their whole lives. They've been here for 500 generations already.”

A five-year plan developed by the AWC and traditional custodians will direct future management activities, including identifying biodiversity and cultural assets to be protected, how threats to these assets will be managed, and how the health of assets will be monitored over time.

The work will also gather information on the distribution and abundance of threatened animals by combining the expert tracking skills of traditional custodians with contemporary scientific techniques such as live trapping and camera trapping.

For example, the critically endangered Central Rock-rat was recently reintroduced to Newhaven and may eventually be re-introduced to the adjoining Ngalurrtju Aboriginal Land Trust if the program finds no trace of it there.

“It's really contiguous biodiversity through that area. So there's a lot of the same sort of landforms and conservation assets in terms of land form, species composition and presence of threatened species. It makes a lot of sense that the whole area, which is very similar, is managed together for conservation.”

Indigenous Partnerships are a key funding priority for AWC. To support their work go to www.australianwildlife.org/donate