Saturday, 8 June 2013

Nadjunuga Wildlife Refuge, on the South-East coast of Australia, is managed for the purposes of education, conservation, BioBanking, carbon sinking and recreational activity like adventure-tourism.  

For forty years, the owner's biological science background has informed the management of the refuge, which is situated within the Red Rocks district of Cambewarra Mountain, NSW, Australia.

The word 'Nadjunuga' is from the local Indigenous Yuin language and translates as old man mountain - his white hair is the mist captured by trees as it passes inland from the sea, then uplifted by the mountain, or is itself emitted by the trees on the mountain as part of the water cycle (Source: the late Uncle Frank Mumbler from Mumbulla Mountain, filmed and interviewed many times by the blogger).

The 16 hectare refuge has very high conservation values in both flora and fauna and is listed on the NSW BioBanking site. Nadjunuga Wildlife Refuge contains sites of significance to the Indigenous Yuin Nation and is bordered on three sides by national park and cliffs. 

The Nadjunuga walking-trail blog (virtual walk here in these photographs) simulates a journey, a walk, leading to the actual wildlife refuge, along the southern boundary of the neighbour's adjoining block, over which Nadjunuga has legal easement.

The Nadjunuga property is north facing and so holds an unusual species abundance, due to northerly aspect, its conservation, the pockets of rich volcanic soil (Gerringong tuff origin) and sheltered habitat.

The property has thick tree cover, essentially temperate rain-forest, elevation around 500 meters (above sea level), giving views across Kangaroo Valley to the North.

Nadjunuga Wildlife Refuge aims one day to offset a development somewhere in the immediate region of Kangaroo Valley (similar habitat), within a biodiversity BioBanking agreement. 

To achieve this aim, Nadjunuga Wildlife Refuge will have to undergo ongoing and complete habitat counts of species that are likely to be dislodged in the development that it will offset within the biodiversity BioBanking agreement. One can imagine Nadjunuga Wildlife Refuge offsetting the development of a hotel and golf course, or a holiday housing development, or the like.

Such BioBanking offset arrangements can only be set into law once the property being offered as the offset is thoroughly assessed. Assessment, through scientific method, determines it with significantly healthy habitats and balanced ecosystems - complete with original native flora and fauna. This status must be maintained and so regularly surveyed in order to keep the BioBanking offset arrangement.

The 'status' can only be established once the research is conducted into every species present, and then programs undertaken to eradicate feral species like the fox and weeds, should they be present.

The conservation area contains Brown Barrel (Eucalyptus fastigata) Tall Open Forest, including species such as Turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera) and Monkey Gum (Eucalyptus cypellocarpa). It also contains riparian closed forest dominated by Lilly Pilly (Acmena smithii), Native Daphene (Pittosporum undulatum), and Coachwood (Ceratopetalum apetalum). 

Coachwood and other rain-forest species are regionally uncommon this far south, or they are at their southern limit in the area, or they are occurring as disjunct populations in the area.

A fauna and flora assessment was made in 1997 identifying some of the threatened animal and bird species found at the property:

Southern Brown Bandicoot      Isoodon obesulus
Tiger Quoll                                  Dasyurus maculatus
White-footed Dunnart                Sminthopsis leucopus
Koala                                           Phascolarctos cinereus

Long-nosed Potoroo                  Potorous tridactylus
Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby        Petrogale penicillata
Yellow-bellied Sheathtail Bat    Saccolaimus flavientris
Great Barred Frog                      Mixophyes balbus
Powerful Owl                              Ninox strenua
Eastern Bristle Bird                    Dasyornis brachypterus
Olive Whistler                             Pachycephala olivacea
Glossy-black cockatoo              Calyptorhynchus lathami
Rose-crowned Pigeon               Ptilinopus regina
Purple-crowned Pigeon             Ptilinopus superbus
Greater Broad-nosed Bat          Scoteanax ruppellii
Common Bent-wing Bat            Miniopterus schreibersii
Little Bent-wing Bat                   Miniopterus australis 

Recent remote-digital-camera mammal surveys and scat analyses in 2014, on Nadjunuga, revealed foxes, little dogs and feline cats. This means the quoll (the Eastern, the spotted tail or the tiger quoll) present at the time of the last survey (1997), may now be extinct, or severely endangered due to habitat competition from foxes in particular (see below: cat and fox [taken at night]).

Remote cameras with sensors are used with baits that attract the animals within the scope of the camera (see below: programming the camera and scanning images)

Quolls are habitat generalists, so in the absence of competition from introduced carnivores, they occupy the top carnivore position. Their presence (or absence) is naturally related to their habitat’s health status, particularly affected by humans, in terms of disturbance (logging, agriculture, recreational use) and the abundance of the quoll’s prey.

In scientifically surveying Nadjunuga, we will provide crucial information on how well the quolls and other species have responded to these disturbances (logging, agriculture, recreational activities) and whether this impacts their survival. 

Such information is of fundamental importance to the long-term survival of the quoll, and this is critical to any biodiversity agreement in the future. Surveys also need to be ongoing so that management of Nadjunuga continues within an informed approach, and so that strategies can be mounted to re-balance the habitat.

The ‘walking trail’ to the property, as transect, was built over 2012 to 2015 and this was funded through a three year grant from the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife. 

GPO Box 2666, Sydney, NSW, Australia 2001. 
Ph: 02 9221 1949. 
The ‘walking trail’ was designed to gain peaceful recreational and maintenance access to Nadjunuga Wildlife Refuge, while also using the trail as a scientific survey transect. 

The property has a Right of Carriageway, co-ordinate surveyed, across the adjoining property. Parts of this Right of Carriageway now serve as this ‘walking trail’, which is a pleasant walk meandering occasionally within the easement co-ordinates (15 Wide). This enables access to the property without the audio and visual ‘contamination’ from the adjoining properties’ farm buildings and machinery.

The high conservation values have qualified Nadjunuga's listing as a potential BioBanking site. Should it be listed as an offset site, stringent management obligations will be applied: such as mandatory fencing and weed eradication. A fence, for instance, will prevent potential grazing animals (currently horses) and even motorcycles and quad machines from venturing onto Nadjunuga and down to Nugents Creek – tributary to Kangaroo Valley River and within Sydney Water Catchment area.

A number of rare, even endangered, flora and fauna species have been identified on the property, due perhaps, to sheltering by high cliffs that form boundaries on three sides. The only open and relatively vulnerable side due to clearing is the fourth (Western) boundary shared with the neighbours.

Post-graduate science students are conducting ecological fieldwork throughout 2015.

This year, the walking trail has officially become an ecological survey transect, enabling University of Wollongong research to be conducted. This will determine the 'status' of the biodiversity, in and around Nadjunuga Wildlife Refuge. 

The fieldwork (initially) will be applied only on the access-walking trail, one of the reasons for its original construction, as funded by the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife. 

The trail, as research transect, is ideal for fieldwork because as a sandy loam soil, it is less likely to have leeches. It is also less likely for students to get lost on the trail, as it is well defined.  

Nadjunuga Wildlife Refuge, on the other hand, is predominantly rain-forest, teeming with leeches - while the northern boundary 80 meter cliffs may be dangerous for a lost researcher and their equipment. 

Similarly, we want to maintain the best possible security for the research equipment while it is deployed for the  survey, and we are hoping on capturing records of quolls, rather than foxes as we discovered in 2014 (see above). The last professional survey was conducted in 1997 and quolls were identified. 

Data obtained along the walking trail may also be used to help determine if quolls have a preference for old growth open forest, as compared to logged forest, or rain-forest, or the inverse. The survey methods used may also determine differences in prey abundance across the study transect, to perhaps determine if habitat use is correlated to the density of prey items. 

We will also use satellite technology to accurately determine the coordinates of the walking trail and then produce a map of the walking track for its continued use for scientific and educational purposes.

The quoll is an iconic Australian marsupial that is scientifically grouped (Order: Dasyuromorphia) with the now extinct Tasmanian tiger (Thylacine). Very little was known about the biology and ecology of the Tasmanian tiger before it became extinct. While a moderate level of knowledge exists for the quoll, this information predominantly relates to aspects of the species' general ecology.  Little is known, as to which habitats they prefer at landscape levels, in particular in disturbed landscapes. 

By communicating the findings of our research through publication and on this blog, Australians will benefit by having a deeper understanding of the animal itself, given that there is very little recent information on spotted-tailed quoll biology.

An informed public is a responsible public, and if the general public know how to identify a quoll and its habitat, they are likely to act with respect towards the animal and its home. Such knowledge helps people sense they are contributing to protecting an iconic Australian species from extinction.

This project is important to Australia because anecdotal evidence suggests that until 30 years ago, the spotted-tailed quoll, mainland Australia’s apex predator, was a common species. But decline was near: it was known for killing poultry in rural landscapes and so was often shot for that reason. 

As a consequence of such persecution, and continued habitat loss and competition from introduced carnivores, this species has undergone a rapid decline. Consequently, in 2004 the Australian government’s threatened species committee listed the species as endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, concluding that the spotted-tailed quoll could be extinct on mainland Australia within only a few decades. 

Apex predators are fundamentally important to ecosystem function because of the control they exert over food webs. If an apex predator is removed from an ecosystem a trophic cascade my result in which smaller prey become more abundant and their prey more scarce. This, in turn, affects communities of other plants and animals, potentially altering the overall ecosystem balance and functioning.  

The spotted-tailed quoll is already extinct in a large proportion of its habitat and its potential extinction elsewhere means a serious, if not detrimental, consequence to overall ecosystem function. For example, with an over-abundance of herbivorous prey, the structure of forests can be severely altered, affecting species such as potoroos, a threatened species, that rely upon dense under-story vegetation for survival.

The owner / manager of Nadjunuga Wildlife Refuge made a contribution in 2014 to the NSW biodiversity legislation review and sent a submission to the Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel. The panel has now completed its final report and has submitted it to the NSW Government. The panel’s final report can be viewed here:

For further information and to register your interest in receiving more information about the review in the future, please visit:

Nadjunuga is dedicated therefore to supporting adventure, science and the community. 

Adventure: the scientific fieldwork will be conducted in remote areas that are steep, even dangerously precipitous, with areas of dense rainforest, immediately within a world heritage area – the Illawarra escarpment and Kangaroo Valley. Understanding the bush and wildlife and developing a sense for adventure is needed to surmount the trying fieldwork conditions that are likely to be encountered. 

Science: the research is based on solid scientific theory and practice. It is a project that is scientifically informed and will contribute to the field of conservation biology through the publication of scientific manuscripts, presentation of data at international conferences and meetings. 

Community: the proposed research cannot be completed without the help of students, volunteers and local community members. Therefore, we will seek out members of the local communities near Nadjunuga to inform us if, when and where they have seen quolls. Seminars will be delivered to local community groups (e.g. Landcare groups, natural history societies) communicating the findings of the field surveys conducted at Nadjunuga.

David Blackall  BSc (Agric), Dip Ed, MA (Jour), PhD
PO Box U82
Wollongong University
Wollongong, 2500
Mobile: 0414 838784
Skype: dblackal