Aboriginal Knowledge
The Decline Of Mammals
in Northern Australia


Recent evidence suggests that not all is well with the mammal fauna of northern Australia.  Surveys in the last two decades have reported absences or declines of many species in many parts of the north.  Numerous species are even declining in iconic national parks such as Kakadu that were set up to protect the very species that are now declining.  We can get some ideas of these losses by comparing our current assessments with historical records and scientific studies.  However, our knowledge is patchy and incomplete.

To address our incomplete knowledge a new study is commencing to document traditional Aboriginal knowledge of the mammals of the north.  Many of the elder members of Aboriginal communities retain an extensive knowledge of the status, distribution and ecology of plants and animals on their country.  In June this year, the Biodiversity Conservation section of the NT Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment will commence a project in collaboration with the Australian National University, the Northern Land Council and numerous Aboriginal ranger groups and communities across the Top End to help understand the historic and ongoing decline of mammals in northern Australia.   

What is the project about? 

The research will aim to chart the pattern of fauna decline across much of northern Australia through documentation of Aboriginal traditional knowledge of the current and past status of mammals.  It will be based on a previously successful project where Aboriginal communities described the patterns of decline of animals in central Australia, through discussions fuelled by props of museum specimens.  Aboriginal informants living at a series of outstations and communities across northern Australia will be informally interviewed to discuss their knowledge about the targeted species. These discussions will be aided using stuffed animals and photos as prompts, using interpreters where required. Broadly, the survey will ask for information on: names for each mammal species, whether the species still occurs in the local area; whether it has changed in abundance; if it has become locally extinct, when such loss occurred; and what factors are thought to have contributed to any change in status.  Should the Aboriginal perspective support conclusions from the scientific approach it would reinforce the call to increase resourcing and management across the landscape in order to maintain biodiversity values and protect our unique mammals. 


An important part of the project is to use museum specimens to help people identify the species we are talking about and promote conversations (they work much better than just photos).  To this end, we have been collecting (from zoos, museums, road kills, etc) and preparing as many study skins of the mammals of the northern wet-dry tropics as we can get hold of.    To date we've done quite well but are still short a few important specimens.  

It would be of great assistance to us if you could help us with our collection by keeping any critters that have passed on that you would be willing to donate to the project.  We would arrange collection, freight, etc.  At the end of the study we would endeavour to return the beautifully mounted specimen to you if requested.  Below is a list of all the mammals that we are still after.  The first list include those that are a priority, list two includes others we would like to have while list three include those we already have...but in many cases could use back ups of. 

If you would be in a position to help we would be most grateful.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me for further details or information about the project. 

Marc Ziembicki
Biodiversity Conservation,
Dept of Infrastructure, Planning & Environment
P.O. Box 496, Palmerston N.T. 0831 AUSTRALIA
Tel: (+61 8) 8944 8458

Email: mark.ziembicki@nt.gov.au





Northern Brush-tailed Phascogale

Spectacled Hare-wallaby

Short-eared Rock-wallaby


Rock Ringtail Possum

Golden-backed Tree-rat

Golden Bandicoot

Northern Brown Bandicoot




Western Quoll

Long-tailed Planigale

Sandstone Antechinus

Fat-tailed Antechinus

Ningbing Antechinus

Kakadu Dunnart

Butler's Dunnart

Stripe-faced Dunnart

Ooldea Dunnart

Antilopine Wallaroo

Black Wallaroo


Red Kangaroo

Tropical Short-tailed Mouse

Grassland Melomys

Delicate Mouse

Sandy Inland Mouse

Central Pebble-mound Mouse

Kimberley Pebble-mound Mouse

Western Chestnut Mouse

Long-haired Rat

Water mouse

Common Rock-rat

Arnhem Land Rock-rat


Fawn Antechinus


Northern Quoll

Common Planigale

Carpentarian Antechinus

Red-cheeked Dunnart


Burrowing Bettong

Agile Wallaby

Northern Nailtail Wallaby

Common Brushtail Possum

Sugar Glider

Northern Blossom-bat

Orange Horseshoe bat

Black Flying-fox

Little Red Flying-fox

Yellow-bellied Sheathtail Bat

Ghost Bat


Brush-tailed Rabbit-rat


Black-footed Tree-rat

House Mouse

Northern Hopping-mouse

Kakadu Pebble-mound Mouse

Dusky Rat

Black Rat

Pale Field-rat

Carpentarian Rock-rat



Spinifex Hopping Mouse


Bennett's Wallaby
Juvenile NT Brushtail Possum
Swamp Wallaby
Golden Brushtail Possum
Red Kangaroos
Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies
Baby Squirrel Glider
Sugar Glider

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