Through joint management in the park, Anangu and Parks Australia hope to minimise the adverse effects of introduced animals on the natural and cultural values of the park.
What is an introduced animal?
Introduced animals are species that have arrived from different countries or regions and established wild populations often causing many problems in their new environment. They are recognised as the major factor in the extinction of native species of Central Australia. Currently 40 per cent of native species in Central Australia are either extinct or locally extinct.
What introduced animals do we have in the park?
Of the 27 mammal species found in the park, six are introduced: mice, rabbits, foxes, camels, dogs and cats. Each of these animals has its own way of impacting on the environment within the park. You will notice from the list, some animals are predators, and some are prey species. These animals interact within the natural food chain. Both introduced predator and prey species need to be controlled to protect the natural environment.
Who is responsible?
Human beings are responsible for the introduction of all non-Indigenous species into Australia, and so we are responsible for solving the problems they have caused in a humane manner. Most introduced species were imported into Australia deliberately as they served some purpose to people. Dogs and cats were introduced as domestic pets, foxes and rabbits were introduced to provide us with game for recreational hunting, and camels were introduced to provide transport. The mice are an exception to this general rule having probably stowed away in imported food stock.
What impact do they have?
Here in the park, significant damage is done by camels to waterholes and soaks. As desert specialists, camels make the most of scarce water and a thirsty camel can drink up to 200 litres of water in three minutes. Water is very sacred to Anangu - without water nothing can survive, so by polluting and draining waterholes, camels pose a significant threat to some of the most culturally significant areas within the park.
Rabbits and camels are herbivores - they eat vegetation which holds soil together. Bare soil is more susceptible to wind and water erosion. We have very ancient and fragile soils here in the Central Desert, and it does not take a big shift in soil use patterns to create significant changes in the overall soil structure. Trees and shrubs are also targeted by both these grazing animals. Rabbits eat the roots of some plants, and also enjoy sapling trees and shrubs. Many of our species require fire for regeneration, and so rarely have the chance to regenerate. Foxes and cats are carnivores - they hunt a large number of smaller animals in the park which has a direct and devastating impact on native populations. The combination of increased use and changes in the use of plants and water causes competition for native animals. The effects of competition are more severely felt during a drought when native animal populations may already be reduced to a bare minimum. This increased competition further threatens rare species in the park.
Anangu have a different way of looking at introduced animals than non-Indigenous Australians. Anangu have been hunting cats before the first European explorers visited Central Australia and have adapted introduced species into their lifestyles. An example is the use of rabbit as a food source. Anangu are aware of the threats that foxes, cats and camels pose to native species and fully support their control within the park. Anangu knowledge and tracking skills are invaluable in the management of these introduced animals.
Photo | m-gem
What is being done here in the park?
Issues with introduced species extend beyond the park boundary and effective control in the park depends on effective control programs outside of the park. Cooperation with neighbours and regional bodies is therefore recognised as being essential to reducing the impacts. In the park, camels have been implicated in the reduction of the plant species mangata (desert quandong, Santalum acuminatum). Surveys indicate an increase in the population of 10 per cent per year yet the opinions amongst Anangu regarding camel management such as culling is divided. Anangu see the need for reducing camel numbers in the park but there is debate as to the best way to do it.
A rabbit control program was introduced in the park in 1989 and results indicate a great reduction in populations, a noticeable improvement in vegetation recovery and a reduction in predator numbers. Ongoing control will be undertaken to maintain low rabbit numbers into the future, however low numbers of rabbits means that the transmission of the introduced calicivirus to control the remaining rabbit numbers is difficult.
A program to collar cats and re-release into the park will assist with cat control. Fitted with a GPS data-logging collar the cat will provide critical information on its range and use of microhabitat. Hopefully this will support more effective control programs using either traps or baits. Foxes have been seen along the ring road adjacent to Uluru and in other locations, and the existing fox monitoring program has recorded tracks at all monitoring sites. Transects to determine predator densities in the park are being established and both traditional and western scientific techniques are used. Anangu knowledge and tracking skills are invaluable assets in the management of foxes. In the park, Threat Abatement Plans under the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 are in place for rabbits, foxes and cats.
Park regulations prohibit visitors bringing animals into the park unless they are a guide dog for the blind or deaf, or a permit is granted by the Director of National Parks.