Noah's ark bid to save desert species

Daniel MercerThe West Australian

If you want to find Lorna Glen reserve, pull out a map of WA and put your finger pretty much bang in the middle.

It's part of the vast, remote wilderness that constitutes the northern Goldfields as it melds into the Murchison and Gascoyne regions.

To the naked eye, the endless tracts of spinifex grass, gnarled low eucalypt trees and barren red dirt suggest an unforgiving, lifeless desert.

Look a little closer and it becomes immediately apparent that Lorna Glen is one of the most remarkable places in the State.

For 13 years, Lorna Glen has been the site of a landmark project - the biggest of its kind in the world - to restore an old pastoral station to its former environmental glory.

Spearheaded by the Department of Parks and Wildlife - and its preceding bodies - the project has taken hundreds of rare native animals from offshore islands to a modern Noah's Ark.

Malas, golden-haired bandicoots, boodies and Shark Bay mice were all once widespread in mainland Australia's arid and semi-arid regions but suffered terribly with the introduction of pests such as cats and foxes.

Jim Sharp, DPAW's acting director-general, said Lorna Glen was an ambitious opportunity to wind back the clock on a history of environmental damage.

More importantly, it marked a major shift in the way WA managed conservation, which had been limited to a "save the furniture" approach.

"What positions it as being very significant is generally conservation has been in retreat, so you retreat back to what you can protect and save," he said.

"This is a reversal of that where we're going on the offensive . . to take lost ground."

The logistics of Lorna Glen are enormous.

It spans two properties with a combined size of almost 600,000ha - an area about a tenth the size of Tasmania. Millions of dollars and countless hours have been spent bringing it back to life.

At its core is an 1100ha enclosure in which translocated animals have been introduced and where it is hoped their populations can thrive, free from foreign predators.

Environment Minister Albert Jacob, who had his first glimpse of the project this week, said it was hoped the enclosure would be a beachhead from which the animals could be reintroduced into the wild.

Faced with plans by the department to expand the sanctuary to 5000ha - which scientists want to ensure the genetic sustainability of the enclosed animals - Mr Jacob seemed receptive.

DPAW's fauna conservation program leader Keith Morris said Lorna Glen's reintroduced mammals were not as conspicuous as species such as lions and elephants, but they were just as important.

We're going on offensive to take lost ground."Jim Sharp

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