Twilight Walking Tours
Spot Endangered Native Animals
in an Ecosystem at the
Forefront of Conservation
It is dusk, and a faint pink stripe lights the horizon across the carpark. On the playground you meet a ranger and a volunteer dressed in khakis and hi-vis.
When the rest of the visitors arrive, everyone receives a small red torch. This will allow you to light your path and watch your step without disturbing local wildlife. Together you walk the short distance to the gate which marks your entrance into Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary.
The sanctuary has been hosting twilight tours since 2014. There has never been a shortage of material; Mulligans Flat hosts the country’s largest remaining community of endangered Yellow Box and Blakeley’s Red Gum and is located on a Ngunnawal songline. Another long-established sanctuary activity, part of the school holidays program, aims to educate children on the area’s cultural history.
On a twilight tour, visitors are guided through the sanctuary at night as they discover one of Canberra’s most unique – and endangered – ecosystems.
The star of the show, the Eastern Bettong (Bettongia gaimardi) known in the Ngunnawal language as Balbo or Ngaluda. The Bettong is an ecosystem engineer. Their diggings provide optimal conditions for certain native plants to germinate.
Eastern Bettongs were locally extinct for 100 years before being reintroduced into the sanctuary in 2012. Today they make regular appearances on tours, springing away on powerful hind legs with forelimbs tucked close to its chest.
“Eastern Bettongs were locally extinct for 100 years before being reintroduced into the sanctuary.”
The Bettongs have flourished partly thanks to the predator-proof fence that keeps introduced predators—feral cats and foxes—out of their habitat. This fence and the species it defends are just two parts of the sanctuary’s greater ethos of ‘re-wilding’.
The entire habitat is protected by a predator-proof fence.
THe Ecosystem Engineer
Seek Out a Bettong
Mulligans Flat and its management body, the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust, are at the forefront of conservation. Their task? Innovating the science of reintroduction.
A pall of doom and gloom often hangs over discussions of Australia’s wildlife. Australia holds the unenviable record of worst mammal extinction on record, and since the bushfires of January 2020, the future of many species has only dimmed further.
Places like Mulligans Flat lead with an optimistic spirit. Unfortunately, it is not possible to re-create a pre-European ecosystem because of the extinction of many species that once roamed these lands. Our aim is to learn what a native species needs in order to recover by studying the process of reintroduction.
Sometimes it comes down to the availability of food or habitat, or the natural behaviour of the animal in question. Either way, results have been promising and evidence-based.
Timing and Location
The Bush-Stone Curlew
The Bush-stone Curlew (Burhinus grallarius), or Warabin, has taught researchers a great deal about the dual roles of timing and location in helping a bird species to establish and recover.
Once totally absent from the area, now it is hard to cross the sanctuary at night without hearing their signature haunting cry.
Another slightly better-known species, the nocturnal Eastern Quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus) or Murugun, is harder to spot with the naked eye but regularly shows up on motion-sensor camera traps, sometimes with their rambunctious young.
Instrumental changes were made to the reintroduction process during the researcher’s efforts to help this species establish its population within the sanctuary. Like the bettong, prior to this, the eastern quoll was locally extinct.
Mulligans has been the subject of various studies and research projects for the past 15 years. By studying the impacts and conditions of ecosystem function, species’ reintroductions, and vegetation health, scientists have a clearer road map for giving the ecosystem the best possible chance of success.
It’s not only mammals and birds who gain from living in an outdoor laboratory.
The depositing of wood debris into the sanctuary resulted in a significant increase in insect population and diversity, thereby providing a greater abundance of food for the area’s birds, bats, frogs, lizards and spiders, which in turn, feed the rest of the ecosystem.
Mulligans Flat Community Hub
Conservation is facilitated by teamwork.
The recent construction of a visitor’s centre is thanks to partial sponsorship from fellow conservation non-profit Odonata.
We owe the reintroduction projects to group participation between (to name just a few) the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust, ACT Government, Mt Rothwell in Victoria, and ANU’s Fenner School of Environment & Society.
ACT Parks and Conservation have collaborated with the Trust since the very beginning, providing help in the form of boots on the ground and program support. They have also undertaken vegetation mapping to guide the reduction of invasive weeds while informing the recovery of endemic plant species.
Mulligans Flat is also a community hub. Positioned next door to some of Canberra’s more recent suburbs and with entrances nearby the Forde shops, the sanctuary is highly accessible to the public. Joggers, birdwatchers and admirers of nature can enter the sanctuary at any time. (Except under special circumstances such as Total Fire Bans.)
Programs for all ages are run throughout the year, including a hands-on school holiday program encouraging kids to become citizen scientists.
2020 has been exceptionally difficult in light of COVID-19 restrictions. Like other not-for-profits, the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust relies on multiple income streams, many of which, including running tours and public programs, were cut off for much of the year.
Using their online platform allowed Mulligans Flat to stay in touch with their audience, and the sanctuary’s size and relatively low-contact status kept it from becoming physically inaccessible.
Now that tours have started up again, it is possible to support the sanctuary and its important work by attending one of their many interactive, hands-on programs, whether that’s a twilight tour or a kid’s activity.
When you come to Canberra for the Peace Walk, schedule a few extra days to experience more of the Bush Capital.
Visit Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary to learn more or to arrange a private Twilight Tour. And while you are at it, why not ask about a wilderness experience for your school, club or workplace?
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