Wongalara

Wongalara

Overview

Located on the southern edge of Arnhem Land, Wongalara covers over 190,000 hectares (470,000 acres) of spectacular Top End habitats.  The mighty Wilton River dissects the property, flanked by tall gallery forests.  Rugged escarpments overlook the river valley, grading into broad sandstone plateaus capped by diverse open woodlands, heathlands and a network of wetlands and gorges. 

The range of habitats on Wongalara make it a hotspot for Top End wildlife including endemic species such as the Hooded Parrot and the Kakadu Dunnart.  Threatened and declining species include the Gouldian Finch, Spectacled Hare-wallaby, Northern Bandicoot and Red Goshawk. 

The decline of wildlife (especially mammals) across northern Australia is most severe in regions like the Top End and the Gulf.  At Wongalara, AWC is playing a vital leadership role by demonstrating practical, science-based strategies to address these declines.  We have established the largest feral herbivore-free area on mainland Australia (1,000 square kilometres); implemented a fire management regime that has significantly reduced the impact of wildfires; and begun the process of reintroducing regionally extinct mammals such as the Pale Field Rat.   

Key vitals

Size/area:
192,411 hectares
Mammals:
33
Bioregion:
Gulf Fall and Uplands
Birds:
198
Plants:
600-800
Reptiles:
86
Threatened wildlife:
19
Amphibians:
19
Ecosystems:
To be mapped
Threatened plants:
Unknown

Wildlife

The diversity of habitats on Wongalara, and its location on the edge of Arnhem Land and the Gulf bioregions, make it a hotspot for northern Australian wildlife.   AWC expects at least 198 bird species, 33 mammal species, 86 species of reptiles and 19 frog species to occur on the property.  

AWC’s management at Wongalara is aimed at halting and reversing the decline in wildlife that is sweeping across northern Australia, including in protected areas such as the nearby Kakadu National Park (which has suffered a 75% decline in small mammal populations in little over a decade). 

Wongalara is home to several threatened and declining species including the colourful Gouldian Finch, the Orange Leaf-nosed Bat, the Red Goshawk and the Northern Brown Bandicoot.  Endemic species – found only in the Top End – include the Hooded Parrot (which nests in termite mounds) and the charming Kakadu Dunnart.  The Kakadu Dunnart record for Wongalara represents a range extension and probably a new subspecies.   AWC has also undertaken an historic reintroduction of the iconic Pale Field Rat.

The mammal fauna also includes a suite of macropods - Short-eared Rock-wallaby, Agile Wallaby, Spectacled Hare-wallaby, Northern Nailtail Wallaby, Antilopine Wallaroo and perhaps the Black Wallaroo – as well as smaller marsupials and native rodents such as the Long-tailed Planigale and Grassland Melomys.  Rock Ringtail Possums haunt the rock outcrops of Wongalara’s “lost city”.

With over 55 kilometres of two major rivers – the Wilton and the Mainoru – the property is home to both Saltwater and Freshwater Crocodiles, at least one unidentified shark species (probably Bull Sharks), turtles, water rats, water monitors and a large number of freshwater fish species. 

Click below to view the list of wildlife species at Wongalara:
Mammals List  |  Birds List  |  Reptiles List  |  Amphibians List  |  Threatened List

Measures of success: Ecological Health

Gouldian Finches
Gouldian Finches

AWC is the only conservation organisation to measure, in a robust scientific manner, the ecological health of a network of sanctuaries in Australia.  At Wongalara, we undertake more than 4,000 live trap nights each year, 3,000 camera trap nights, aerial surveys for feral herbivores and almost 90 site-based vegetation surveys to measure more than 20 ecological health indicators including:

  • The diversity and abundance of key faunal groups such as small to medium sized mammals, seed-eating birds, ground-dwelling reptiles and species impacted by cane toads.
  • The impact of key threats such as fire, feral herbivores, feral predators, and weeds.

Our performance against these indicators provides rigorous scientific data which enables us to track the ecological health of Wongalara. 

Field programs

The science and land management programs at Wongalara include a series of ground-breaking initiatives which serve as a model for the Top End-Gulf region:

  • Wongalara contains Australia’s largest feral herbivore-free area(1,000 sq km).
  • AWC constructed the first feral cat exclusion areas in northern Australia at Wongalara.  These cat-free areas are playing a key role in our feral cat research program.
  • Active fire management has delivered exceptional results, dramatically reducing the impact of wildfire. 
  • Wongalara is the base for a major regional weed management program, supported by the Federal Government. 

General description

Red Goshawk
Red Goshawk

Covering 190,000 hectares, Wongalara makes a vital contribution to nature conservation within the poorly reserved Gulf Falls and Upland Bioregion. It contains a range of topography and a variety of landscapes supporting distinct assemblages of plants and animals.

In the north, the Mainoru River flows from west to east in numerous channels, separating and re-joining in a braided pattern to feed an extensive system of billabongs and gallery forests. Wide alluvial flats flank the Mainoru River and support a mosaic of grasslands and open woodland.

In the east, where the Mainoru joins the Wilton River, the sanctuary has a different character. The Wilton has carved a deep valley within the ancient sandstone which occupies the heart of the property. Along its path lie long still waterholes that are shaded by stately Melaleucas and interspersed with tumbling rocky rapids. During summer floods, water rises out of the valley and spreads in a continuous sheet over kilometres of the flood plain.

The centre of the sanctuary is dominated by a deeply dissected sandstone plateau that supports the most southerly occurrence of Arnhem Land sandstone ecosystems. Covered in a complex pattern of open woodland communities, and supporting permanent wetlands, this plateau features the striking Mount Throsby which dominates its western edge where the sandstone breaks away into cliff edges, gullies and ravines cut by tributaries of the Jalboi River.  In many places, slow weathering over thousands of years has worn the sandstone into marvellous shapes riddled with cracks and caves that provide refuge for shy rock-dwelling animals.

Ecosystems and plants

The various ecosystems on Wongalara are in good condition and form an intricate and complex pattern, with fine-scale variation and numerous ‘refugial’ habitats for its wildlife.  Wetlands, sandstone communities and patches of monsoon rainforest and heathland, plus blacksoil plains and alluvial flats, provide a contrast to the drier, spinifex-clad ranges and sandstone plateaus that dominate much of the sanctuary. 

A range of soil types support a diversity of eucalypt and acacia-dominated woodlands.  Wongalara’s shallow soils carry stringybark, woolybutt and acacia scrub over spinifex, annual sorghums and spear grass.  Its undulating country and upland valley floors have a limestone, sandstone and conglomerate base that carries silver box, bloodwood, ti-tree, quinine, bauhinia, coolibah and paperbarks. There are snappy gum and lancewood on escarpment edges.

A large proportion of the ecosystems on Wongalara are either considered to be threatened with extinction or are not protected in any National Park in the Bioregion.  The sanctuary is expected to contain 600 – 800 plant species, including many rare and endemic plants.

Staff at Wongalara