Recent heavy rains lead to record number of native animal captures in the desert park

A South Australian wildlife reserve in the state’s arid north has had its second-highest number of native animals in 25 years.

Each year, the Arid Recovery team near Roxby Downs conduct a week-long trapping survey to collect data on how different mammals and reptiles are doing before releasing them back into the wild.

Chief executive Katherine Tuft said heavy rains in the state’s outback in January contributed to this year’s success and set a new record for the most reptiles caught in a year.

Dr Tuft said 1,045 animals were captured during the survey, 800 of which were different species of reptiles.

“It seems that rainfall, when it is like this, is so pervasive in increasing the productivity of desert ecosystems here.

“They’re just very good at taking advantage of good conditions so they can reproduce very quickly, and in fact a lot of the animals we were catching were young that had just hatched or recently been born.”

The team returns to the lab to identify and measure the animals before releasing them into the wild.(Provided: Arid Salvage)

What is trapping?

Pit trapping is the method used to capture animals.

“Basically you dig buckets into the ground so the tops are flush with the surface of the ground, then you put up a small fence using fly netting between the rows of buckets,” Dr. Tuft.

Two members of the Arid Recovery team crouched in the storeroom setting a trap.
Pit trapping is a method used to capture small animals in the reserve. (Provided: Arid Salvage)

“As the animals move around to defecate, they run into the fence and wander along, then fall into the bucket.

“Then we come at dawn and dusk to check the pits and look for what we caught and figure out what species it is, take measurements and let them go again.”

The method gave researchers insight into the abundance and diversity of small mammals and reptiles living in the reserve.

Dr Tuft said the process also provided information on how major weather events affect the ecosystem.

“This year was the 25th year the survey was run, so it’s a very long-term data set now and we’ve been able to see how things change over cycles of drought and years wetter here and it can be really dramatic in the desert,” she says.

She said one of the most important aspects of the survey was the understanding it provided researchers of the effect of the predator-proof fence and the reintroduction of animals that had been locally extirpated.

“We can see how that changes the game for some of these little creatures that were in the landscape. So there are winners and losers.”

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