Central Australia — one of Earth’s last great wild places — covers more than 1.4 million square miles — over 45 percent of the Australian continent. This is an ancient landscape of stark beauty and quiet, of red dunes and sweeping desert plains stretching as far as the eye can see.
An astonishing amount of biodiversity is secreted away here — among patches of grasses, in clusters of graceful white eucalypts, along a few precious rivers. Most of the region’s animals escape the blistering sun by retreating underground, emerging at night to forage.
Central Australia is home to strange and fascinating creatures, including the:
- Thorny devil — just one of a remarkable number of reptile species
- Major Mitchell’s cockatoo,
- Red kangaroo,
as well as tiny marsupials, dingoes, rock wallabies and deadly snakes.
Many of Australia’s desert animals require large areas of habitat to survive. Some species migrate hundreds of miles in search of food and water, following localized rains that produce temporary refuges of green growth, flowers and insects.
This rich plant and animal life has enabled indigenous people to live here for at least 40,000 years. But the harmony between nature and people has faltered in recent decades, prompting the Conservancy to take bold action now, before it is too late.
A Delicate Balance Disrupted
The harshness of deserts masks their fragility. With water and vegetation so scarce in deserts, damage to these life-sustaining resources has profound repercussions. And the remoteness and size of Central Australia’s deserts have fostered a perilous complacency. Today it is clear that impending climate change and human actions are threatening these ecosystems.
Ranching is widespread in the deserts of Australia. Cattle and other introduced animals consume vegetation and water that native species desperately need to survive, and herds trample and spoil precious wetlands.
Grass species introduced to support and expand the pastoral industry, such as buffel grass, have out-competed native grasses in many areas and increase the amount of ground fuel, raising the risk of uncontrolled wildfires that in turn decrease the natural diversity of post-fire landscapes.
With climate change extending the time between rains, we must move quickly to protect the essential life-sustaining rivers and lakes in Central Australia. Furthermore, we must make sure that native species can get to these water resources by preventing habitat fragmentation that can block migration paths and prevent species’ ability to adapt.
Today, Australia is infamous for a staggering record of species extinctions — the highest in the world for mammals. If we do not act now, more species will disappear forever.
Central Australia offers possible conservation success on a breathtaking scale. Covering nearly half of the continent, this desert region is still largely unconverted and intact, with low human population densities. Though its critical habitats are largely unprotected, there is hope.
Support for conservation is growing in Australia.
The Nature Conservancy is drawing on decades of experience and investing with local conservation partners to purchase and manage significant properties across the central aridlands, such as Kalamurina — a partnership effort with Australian Wildlife Conservancy to protect 1.7 million acres of critical habitat that sits between two massive existing preserves.
In partnership with indigenous communities, the Conservancy will support the establishment of Indigenous Protected Areas. Furthermore, we will help to establish learning networks to increase protection and improve management of these areas and of private lands.
The Conservancy is also working with local partners to identify sites within Central Australia where we can test out strategies for addressing overgrazing, uncontrolled wildfires, and invasive species.
A bold vision
This is a defining moment in time for the deserts of Central Australia. With relatively modest investments, we can save one of the last immense wilderness areas on Earth. This will put safeguards in place now that can help to maintain the balance of the desert for generations to come.
Together with capable partners and supporters who share our bold vision and resolve, we can save the very heart of Australia.