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Saving endangered species on West Island through cat eradication

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Two Aboriginal men stoop over a blue tarpaulin shaped as a trough. They are sorting through a plastic bag of bait.
Anthony Johnston (left) and Steven Simon prepare poisoned bait (sausages) for feral cats.
11 Jan 2018

Preserving Australia’s unique wildlife is an essential role of Indigenous rangers.

In 1994, four kittens were introduced to West Island in the Pellew Islands group in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

They ran wild and through breeding, their increased numbers had a devastating effect on the native wildlife.

In 2011, an eradication program began with the li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers responsible for finding and removing the cats.

Steven Simon, a ranger for 4 years, grew up watching his grandfather and uncle work as rangers and decided that is what he wanted to be. He started as a volunteer working on turtle research and applied when a full-time paid position came up.

‘The last few years, to me, things have changed,’ Steven said.

‘Since we did the baiting, native animals have come back again and now we try our best to look after our native animals.’

‘Doing this work has made me happy and it’s good to see that we now have our native animals back on country after working on this project for so many years.’

Anthony Johnston, who was signed up to be a ranger by his dad 8 years ago, said he also feels good about what they are doing.

‘There are not many bird feathers lying around anymore and not so many cat tracks left, except one,’ Anthony said.

‘The island changed; more small mice back, birds laying eggs along the beachside now.

A small brown mouse stands on top of leaf litter in front of a rock and grass.
Native marsupial mice are coming back to West Island in numbers

Steven and Anthony love working on Country. They enjoy the many activities of a ranger which includes operating boats and other machinery, camping, turtle research and working with other rangers and NT Fisheries.

“Working as a sea ranger has meant constant patrolling of the islands, more signage around sacred sites, clean-up of beaches, and looking after our marine wildlife more,’ Steven said.

And both Steven and Anthony are determined to find the last cat as they go about their job.

Aboriginal man in ranger uniform works on a rodent trap made of material and wire. In the background is rock, bushes, the sea and a blue and cloudy sky.
Anthony Johnston is inspecting a small rodent trap

Indigenous Rangers are at the forefront of Australia’s fight to protect native wildlife against introduced species such as cats, foxes, rabbits, pigs and noxious weeds. Their knowledge of Country combined with modern pest control techniques is essential to preserving the nation’s natural heritage.

Find out more

Watch and listen to Steven and Anthony as they go about their work at Mamadathamburru Cat Control Project.

Indigenous Rangers - Working on Country creates meaningful employment, training and career pathways for Indigenous people in land and sea management.

The ranger program, which began in 2007, supports Indigenous people to combine traditional knowledge with conservation training to protect and manage their land, sea and culture.