Manyallaluk students find endangered species with spy cameras - National Tree Day Blog

Manyallaluk students find endangered species with spy cameras

A team of students and teachers located in one of the most remote parts of Australia have been on a mission to find the spiky pokipain (echidna) and the Gouldian finch.

The tiny school, more than 400 kilometres south of Darwin, is made up of twenty-three kids from pre-school to year six.

Last year, the Planet Ark team travelled to this remote community to plant trees in the lead up to National Tree Day with seedlings funded through The Seedling Bank. The seedlings planted will grow to provide habitat and shelter for a range of wildlife that inhabits Central Arnhem Land. These species include the spiky pokipain which until recently had not been spotted in the region for years, and the endangered Gouldian Finch – one of Australia’s most hard to find birds.

The Gouldian finch is distributed in small flocks across the Top End of Australia, primarily in the Northern Territory and the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Once covering much of Australia’s Top End, there are now less than 2,500 estimated adults remaining. Their decline is primarily due to altered fire regimes, destructive agricultural practices and being targeted by the pet trade before this was banned in the 1980s.  

As part of the school's STEM and learning on country program, the school took on a quest to discover the elusive creatures using spy cameras.  

The Gouldian finch needs to drink several times during the day, and after having no success capturing footage at natural waterholes, the school students came up with an idea to make an artificial watering station.  

Students travelled in the back of the troopy to the watering station every one to two days to replenish the water supply at the tiny pond and check what species the spy cameras had picked up from the night before. 

After a two-year quest, the students have successfully located the secretive echidna, Gouldian finches and an array of other animals. 

"That first Gouldian finch and the first echidna we saw, there was a lot of celebration," school principal Ben Kleinig told ABC news.  

"And because it had taken us quite a few years, it was an emotional experience … the effort that the kids put in over the years, it is quite commendable. Lots of time spent out in the heat, lots of dust, lots of sweat." 

The spy cameras picked up everything from tiny native mice to donkeys, wild cats, snakes and wild birds. 

Ben is an advocate of two-way learning, he describes everyone as a student and a teacher at Manyallaluk, “the kids and families teach us their language, stories and skills, and they show us their Country. The richness of this culture and traditional knowledge is something that we consider an immense privilege to learn from. We teachers become the students and it makes a strong bond.” 

Jennifer McMillan

Jen worked as a vet nurse while studying environmental science and completing her master's degree in Journalism. She loves bushwalking, storytelling, caring for baby animals, Australian birds and river red gums. Jen works on the National Tree Day campaign and Planet Ark's Seedling Bank.