Indigenous women rangers recognised in national sustainability awards program

by Women’s Agenda
Thursday 27 April 2023

Daluk Rangers

Indigenous women are holders of unique ecological knowledge, with their contributions forming an essential part of conservation efforts and ranger programs across Australia.

Recently, the world-leading work of a group of Indigenous women rangers in increasing populations of threatened species in the Warddeken Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) in western Arnhem Land, was recognised in a prestigious national awards program.

The Warddeken Daluk (Women’s) Ranger team from Warddeken Land Management were named as finalists in the 34th annual Banksia Awards, a program for outstanding and innovative leadership in sustainability in Australia.

Warddeken Land Management is a partner of Karrkad Kanjdji Trust, and the organisation has been instrumental in progress that’s been made in recent years to conserve, protect and restore ecosystems and cultural heritage in the region.

Most notably, the Warddeken Daluk Ranger team has been doing this within the Mayh Recovery Project, a program that is critical in the recovery and survival of small mammals in the Warddeken IPA.

The program has been overwhelmingly spearheaded by Indigenous women, who have been working since 2017 to aid the recovery and survival of small mammals (mayh). The program began at the request of Nawarddeken Traditional Owners, and is a long-term project to increase populations of small mammals in the region.

Operationally, it’s underpinned by a network of motion-sensing monitoring cameras that track the movements of animals. The cameras collect data on species in the Warddeken IPA, across around 60 individual sites every year. Rangers use this data to develop the best strategies to increase populations of threatened animals.

Visiting Melbourne for the Banksia Awards ceremony recently, two Daluk rangers spoke to Women’s Agenda about their nomination for the award, and explained how the Mayh Recovery Project has been making a difference.

The rangers, Suzannah Nabulwad and Alexandria Namarnyilk, were also accompanied by the program’s Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator, Alys Stevens.

“We did a whole lot of work beforehand looking at small mammals and came to understand that a decline was really happening. We were losing a lot of animals,” Stevens said.

“Warddeken decided to create their own ecological program when the government pulled out of it. That’s when we developed the camera program. 

“We tried lots of different ways to do it, but cameras were the best. Warddeken did that themselves.”

Stevens is referring to a program that saw the Mayh Recovery Project team deploy 100 cameras in a grid arrangement to track the animals in the area.

As Nabulwad and Namarnyilks explained, the team has collected over 120,000 images from these cameras, capturing a range of species including “bakkadji” (Black-footed treerat), “djebuh” (Northern brushtail possum), “yirlinkirrkkirr” (White-throated grasswren), “rakul” (Partridge pigeon), and “mulbbu” (both Arnhem Land rock rat and Fawn antechinus).

A two-way method to identify feral cats has also been developed by the Warddeken rangers, and the habitats of threatened species from wildfires are being protected by targeted firebreaks.

By combining their specific knowledge about the species, alongside the unique knowledge held by female Elders, female rangers like Nabulwad and Namarnyilk are helping to create better environmental conditions to protect them.

Nabulwad and Namarnyilk noted that they were happy to be recognised by the Banksia Awards program for their work with the camera program. They are passionate about the work they are doing to protect threatened species.

As Karrkad Kanjdji Trust notes, women’s ranger programs like this one are transforming outcomes for Country, with world-leading, Indigenous-led techniques.

You can find out more about the work the Warddeken Daluk Ranger team is doing at the Karrkad Kanjdji Trust website.