Warraweena Pythons, a key indicator for successful biodiversity management?

Stony Steiner writes in from Warraweena Conservation Park about the rise of numbers of Pythons, Echidnas and Yellow-footed Rock Wallabies.

There are and always were pythons across the Flinders Ranges. They are not easy to spot as they spend a lot of their time almost motionless curled up or move slowly and quietly about, mostly after dark. Their beautiful pattern is some of nature’s best camouflage.

Two species of python can be found on Warraweena; the Carpet or Diamond Python (Morelia spilota) and Stimson’s Python (Antaresia stimsoni). Stimson’s Python is also known as the “large blotched python” or the “inland children’s python” is the smaller of the two species which can grow up the 1m long whereas the Carpet Python can grow longer than 2m.

 Carpet Python / Diamond Python, Warraweena Carpet Python / Diamond Python, WarraweenaStimson’s Python / Inland Children’s Python, Warraweena

I live on Warraweena now for almost twenty years and I can confidently say that reports and sightings of pythons have increased over the years. The first python I ever saw in the wild was living at the shearer’s quarters back in 2002, it has been seen there on and off for about 2 years, mostly curled up under the veranda roof behind the kitchen chimney. Some ten years ago reposts of sightings either of a Children’s Python at Old Warraweena and near Mt Hack or Carpet Pythons west of Sliding Rock or Sandy Camp, Dunbar or Mt Stuart came in from guests, some of them I have spotted myself; actually almost ran over the (probably) same large Carpet Python twice at the same location in the dark and more than 2 years apart!  Now I had 3 sightings alone between late November and early December; a Stimson’s Python near Donlon’s camp, one Diamond Python near the lookout and one at Nantibury.

It is not only family members of the Pythoidae who seem to be in higher numbers around Warraweena. The dry conditions of course lures very high numbers of Euros, Kangaroos and Western Grey Kangaroos to springs, soaks and waterholes. As every summer mobs of Zebra Finches and many Rainbow Bee Eaters can be seen and heard around the homestead area.

In late October I’ve spotted a Bush Turkey (Australian Bustard, Ardeotis australis) for the first time on Warraweena. They are great sight and so far, not uncommon.

Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies (Petrogale xanthopus) are for some years now a common sight around dusk at Kippling’s gap and there is good chance for campers and bushwalkers to spot one around Black Range, Lambing or Donlon’s camp.

Another marsupial that currently seems to do extremely well is the short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus). Several guests pointed out to me that we must have feral pigs around according to the large numbers of “diggings” and patches of disturbed topsoil. There are no feral pigs around but lots of busy Echidnas. I’ve managed to see two Echidnas within 20 minutes one evening only 5 km apart. A similar increase of Echidna activity was also observed a bit further south at the Flinders Ranges National Park.

What is the cause of this increased presence of Pythons, Echidnas and Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies? First of all, to note an increased presence of those species one needs to be around for a considerable time and one has to observe the environment constantly.

Changes are natural, often there is no cause we understand, that goes for increase or decrease of species and entire populations, however in a lot of cases there are plausible explanations. For Warraweena is to say that it has a greater biodiversity to start with (if not the greatest in the Flinders Ranges). This it is because of its natural makeup and geographical positioning.

The high ranges do not only provide a wealth of niches and different habitats, they also attract considerably more moisture, a two if not three-fold of the flatter country around us. And water is essential for life, hence the name “Warraweena” translates by the Yura (Adnyamathanha people) as “plenty of water”. There is no doubt, in my opinion, that the “overly wet” conditions between 2010 and 2016 gave the region a natural boost where all species including Homo sapiens benefited greatly.

One factor however, I believe is crucial for the recovery, redistribution and long-term survival of some of our small and mid-sized native species is the ongoing and solid commitment to a rigorous 1080 fox-baiting regime.

Back in 2002 the late Damien Pearce, then Bounceback coordinator (DEW) agreed to include Warraweena Conservation Park in Bounceback, this despite of concerns of his superiors. Ongoing Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby surveys and monitoring, goat control and fox control with 1080 were the key elements that Bounceback brought to Warraweena.

In later years Bounceback was changed into Ranges Riches Project, Rockwallaby monitoring was no longer required and neither was the Helicoper goat cull.

However ongoing Foxbaiting was and is seen the key element for the long-term benefit of smaller native fauna species. National Parks (DEW) still supports Warraweena kindly with two aerial 1080 foxbaits drops in February and August each year and supplies baits for my 4 day ground baiting program on Warraweena in May and November each year.

The support from National Parks with foxbaiting is crucial and makes the difference for our native fauna. I would like to thank all National Parks personnel, past and present for their ongoing support.

Stony Steiner, Warraweena, December 2018