Science

Every year we undertake work at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to better understand the plants and animals of our park. Read on to see what we’re up to.

Reintroducing the mala

What is a mala?

Rufous hare-wallaby (Largochestes hirsutus)

This small wallaby was once one of the most abundant and widespread macropods in the Northern Territory, inhabiting the spinifex country throughout Central Australia.

Today mala are classified by the Northern Territory Government as extinct in the wild, wiped out by European settlement, changing fire regimes and feral predators such as cats or foxes.

Read more about the Mala...

Kuka-nya tjana panya ngura iriti ngayulu nyangu ilunyangka piltiringkunyangka ukiri wiyangka kapi wiyangka. Nganana kuwari kulini nyakukatinytjikitjangku, nyakula kulilpai, munta wiyaringu mulapa kapi wiyangka, ukiri wiyangka, inuntji wiyangka. Mai ngalkula pukulpa nyinapai animal tjuta. ©
Imantura Richards

Long ago I saw that the animals died as things dried out and there was no green grass or water available for them. Now we are thinking about monitoring to see and understand what is happening to the fauna, or they could really disappear at times when there is no rain, no green grasses or fresh growth. With food to eat animals are happy. ©

Mala weigh between 0.8 and 1.6 kg. They are listed as 'endangered' under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Even though they have not been seen in the park since the mid 1900s the Mala or 'hare wallaby people' are important ancestral beings for Anangu. For tens of thousands of years, the Mala have watched over them from rocks and caves and walls, guiding them on their relationships with people, plants and animals, rules for living and caring for country. Mala Tjukurpa, the Mala Law, is central to their living culture and celebrated in story, song, dance and ceremony.

Our mala enclosure

In 2005 Anangu and Parks Australia completed the construction of a 170 hectare feral proof enclosure, which became the new home for 25 mala, or rufous hare-wallabies, reared in Watarrka National Park in the Northern Territory. The animals have been successfully breeding, to the point there are now more than 220 mala in our enclosure. We hope eventually to release these animals back into the park.

The project was supported by the then federal Department of Environment and Water Resources, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, the Central Land Council and the Mutitjulu community

The enclosure:

  • 170 hectares, 5,672 metres of fenceline.
  • Fox, dog and cat proof.
  • We control rabbits inside the fence, to stop them competing with mala for food.
  • Commenced construction April 2004, completed September 2005.
  • Over $44,000 paid in wages to Mutitjulu community (Anangu) members.
  • More than 35 Mutitjulu community members directly involved in the construction of the fence; many others from Mutitjulu and other communities involved in consultation at all stages of the project.
  • Costs $22,000 per year in supplementary feed and water for our mala population.

The benefits:

  • Reintroducing locally extinct species is part of the park’s plan of management. Anangu have identified mala as a priority.
  • Bringing mala back to Uluru also encourages the passing of important ecological and cultural knowledge between Anangu and park staff. Anangu and park staff work together on this project, sharing their skills and knowledge.

The mala story

In the beginning, Mala men, women and children travelled a long way to reach Uluru. When these hare-wallaby people arrived, they camped at sites separate from one another: young men in one place, old men in another, senior single and married women elsewhere, all surrounding the other women and children in the middle.

Senior Mala men then came from the north-west, bearing a ceremonial pole which they planted at a high point on Uluru. The inma or ceremony began. Everything was done in its proper way, even everyday jobs like hunting, gathering and preparing food, collecting water, talking to people, or just waiting. This has been Tjukurpa, the law, for men, women and children ever since.

Luunpa, the kingfisher bird, then cried out a warning "Purkara, purkara!”. An evil dog-like creature called Kurpany had been created by people in the west to destroy the Mala ceremony. The warning is ignored and Kurpany kills two Mala men, and everyone, men, women and children run away.

The Mala Walk and Kantju Gorge

One of the attractions within the park is the Mala Walk which takes you around a section of the base of Uluru to Kantju Gorge.

Today's visitors can see many signs of the Mala creation in features appearing in the landscape across the northwest face of Uluru. Look for Ili (the wild fig tree) and Arnguli (the bush plum) which Mala women and children gathered for food. At Malaku Wilytja, look for the huge slab of rock in front of a cave, made by Mala women and children to sit and rest - and inside, see the children's hand marks on the ceiling. Visit Kantju waterhole, the main water supply for Mala ceremonies and one of the few reliable waterholes around Uluru. Be quiet here and look and listen.

People who climb are walking over the tracks of the Mala. Anangu ask that visitors respect their wishes and choose not to climb because of Uluru's great spiritual significance. Stay safe on the ground and go for a walk with a ranger.

The Mala Walk begins at the main car park at the base of Uluru. It is about two kilometres return, and we suggest 90 minutes to relax and enjoy this area. Park rangers provided guided walks along the Mala walking track each morning at 8:00 am. This walk is wheelchair accessible.

Plant and animal surveys

Plant and animal surveys play an important role in our conservation work. By knowing what plants and animals we have in our park, and how many of them there are, we can tailor our management of individual species to help ensure their survival.

Read more about plants and animals...

Rangers conduct regular surveys into the health of the following plants and animals. Our most recent results show that numbers of most of our threatened species in the park appear to be steady or slightly increasing.

Threatened species monitoring in the park

Species

EPBC Act status

Monitoring

Actions

Trend

Tjakura—great desert skink Liopholis kintorei

Vulnerable

15th annual tjakura survey (Feb–Mar 2012) identified 93 active burrows.

Continued fire management to improve habitat quality. Continued predator monitoring. Feral strategy finalised and acted upon—cat trapping programs successful but unable to effectively trap foxes.

„Numbers steady The number of tjakura burrows in 2012 is not significantly different from 2011 numbers.

Mala—rufous hare-wallaby Lagorchestes hirsutus

Endangered

Annual mala survey undertaken in September 2011. 70 individuals were caught and the mark-recapture population estimate was 214 animals (95% confidence limits 168–282).

Continued active management within the 170-hectare predator-proof enclosure, such as mosaic burning (20% regeneration to 80% mature spinifex) and supplementary feeding. Daily inspection of enclosure fence.

Numbers rising The number of mala is increasing within the predator-proof enclosure. Further research will begin in 2012 to help ascertain when mala have reached their carrying capacity within the enclosure. UKTNP now has the largest known population of mainland mala in existence and as such is extremely important to the species’ ongoing survival.

Murtja—brush-tailed mulgara Dasycercus blythi

No2

Active mulgara burrows, fresh scats and feed diggings found in large numbers across all 21 survey quadrats in the habitat area. 23 individuals were trapped and a new population was discovered in the east of the park.

Continued fire management to improve habitat quality. Continued predator monitoring. Feral strategy finalised and acted upon—cat trapping programs successful but unable to effectively trap foxes.

Numbers rising A significant increase in the mulgara population detected in 2012 as compared to 2011 and 2010.

Itjariitjari— southern marsupial mole Notoryctes typhlops

Endangered

None

Currently determining habitat preferences and distribution across the park. Future studies will involve trench surveying.

Marsupial mole signs (tracks/pop holes) found in all 8 spinifex habitat types in 2010 surveys—surface habitat preferences apparent but unable to conclude from the data how those sites differed statistically in respect to the number of signs that occurred at each site. Currently analysing and publishing the results.

Common wallaroo or euro Macropus robustus

No

Initial survey began in May 2010 and is continuing, utilising surveillance cameras at four waterholes at the base of Uluru. Two of the waterholes are accessible to tourists and two are not.

Currently determining habitat preferences and visitor influences on existing populations.

No baseline data or trends to date. Although the number of euros captured on camera has been low, incidental information recorded regarding potential predators, particularly feral foxes and cats and reptiles such as the perentie (Varanus giganteus), will be very useful in guiding future management decisions.

Striated grasswren Amytornis striatus

No

Biannual monitoring (next monitoring to be conducted in September 2012).

Continued active fire management to reduce large-scale habitat loss from wildfire. Planned future research will aim at quantifying the exact size of the species’ habitat, population size and key habitat elements to inform future management.

Data deficient - Monitoring in 2010 located 5 pairs in a small area of complex spinifex in the south of the park. This is the largest number recorded since initial surveys in 1992; however, birds are unable to be located at any other sites in the park, suggesting this part of the park provides key habitat elements.

Rare plant survey

No

Three-year baseline study and annual monitoring of 15 prioritised plants completed in 2010.

Individual management actions for each species, including fire management regimes, erosion control and camel control.

„Numbers steady Numbers stable for most species. Further monitoring of 5 species will include studies to understand fire tolerances and factors that influence juvenile recruitment rates in the rarer species.

 

Other monitoring work

Ants

The park conducted its first-ever ant survey in conjunction with CSIRO in 2012. Fifty new species of ant were recorded.

Bats

In 2012 the park developed a new survey methodology for bats.

Frogs

We monitor the health of the waterholes at the base of Uluru in a bid to better understand impacts on frog health.

Shield shrimp - a living fossil

Shield shrimp are amazing creatures that survive in ephemeral puddles on the top of Uluru.

Shield shrimp are resilient invertebrates whose eggs are able to survive long term desiccation and exposure to the high temperatures at the summit. Once rain fills the puddles the eggs hatch and begin a new breeding cycle which needs to be finished before the water completely dries up.

The shrimp are living fossils – scientists believe they’ve been around since the Triassic period, around 250 million years ago.

Learning more about our bats

Did you know that Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has around 10 species of bat?

We haven’t surveyed for bats for over 10 years, so in 2012 we hired bat ecologist Claire Hourigan to develop a new survey methodology and train park rangers in bat identification, the use of Anabat recorders and harp traps.  Anabat recorders find bats by detecting and analysing their calls.

We plan to undertake bat surveys later this year.