An innovative approach to wildlife management will hopefully pay dividends on Bullo River Station, but the approach of the cane toad means time is running out for at least one rare beast.

Story By Mark Muller

Up in the gorge country on the western border of Bullo River Station, life goes on pretty much as it has for thousands of years. Red sandstone chasms cut across the surface of the earth, bracketing deep cool rock pools and a cascading series of falls. The tumble and splash of water is gently accompanied by the dry rustle of wind through green fronds of Livingstonia palm. This small and pristine ecosystem is also home to an extremely rare creature – the pygmy crocodile of Bullo River Station. It’s numbers are not exactly known, but certainly don’t go beyond the hundreds. The extent of its habitat is narrow – literally as narrow as the gorges themselves.
“It’s a population that’s become separated from normal sized populations of freshwater crocodiles,” explains Dr Adrian Britton, a Darwin-based crocodile expert who, with wife Erin, runs the small wildlife consultancy, Big Gecko. They have worked with the likes of Sir David Attenbourough, and are involved in surveying the Bullo pygmy crocs. “The reason that they got so small is because they don’t have access to resources. To food. Crocs being crocs, they can the slow down their growth depending on the resources they have available. They become sexually mature at a much smaller size than normal crocodile population.” As far as Adam knows, there are only two populations of pygmy crocs in Australia: on Bullo, and on the Liverpool river in Arnhem Land, where the cane toad has already potentially caused severe losses.
Adam is not yet sure whether the Bullo colony has been isolated for long enough to have changed genetically, and therefore qualify as a new species, but is working with the station owners to find out. There is real urgency to the work; a toxic, toadish storm is on the horizon. Once cane toads reach the gorges, and they will, the chances of preserving this rare animal will be slashed.
Bullo River Station stretches across 200,000 hectares of country in the north-west of the Territory. It is vast and isolated, and home to the progressive, hospitable and formidable Ranacher family – Franz, Marlee and their young sons Ben and Franzie – 6000 Brahmin, give or take a few head, and a breathtaking array of wildlife. From its river flats to its escarpments and gorge country, Bullo is a truly amazing place. Only about 50-60 percent of the usable land is currently running cattle. The remainder is a natural wonder, virtually untouched.

This story excerpt is from Issue #56

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2008