Human Ecology

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 379–406 | Cite as

Indigenous Knowledge of Rock Kangaroo Ecology in Western Arnhem Land, Australia

  • Wendy R. Telfer
  • Murray J. Garde

Indigenous peoples of western Arnhem Land, central northern Australia, have detailed knowledge of the rock kangaroos of the region, species that are little known to science. Information about the ecology of the species is required for their conservation and management. Ethnoecological studies can assist senior indigenous people with transfer of knowledge and can give respect and meaningful employment to those involved. We used semidirected interviews in the regional vernacular, Bininj Kunwok, to record indigenous knowledge of the ecology of the four rock kangaroo species (Petrogale brachyotis, P. concinna, Macropus bernardus and M. robustus). Discussions focussed on habitat preferences, diet, activity patterns, reproduction, predation, and hunting practices. The ethnoecological knowledge of the rock kangaroo species was extensive, and both complemented and extended that reported in the scientific literature. In contrast to scientific understanding of taxonomy and ecology, consultants recognized the rock kangaroos as a natural group. They also described subtle differences in the species’ comparative ecology. The methodology used proved highly successful and we recommend recording indigenous knowledge of the ecology of fauna species in the local vernacular wherever possible. This study is one of the most comprehensive ethnozoological studies of a group of species undertaken in Australia.


Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK) ethnozoology rock-wallaby Macropus Petrogale Australia 



We are grateful to Jimmy Kalarriya, Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek, Mick Kubarkku, Bill Birriyabirriya Namundja, Tom Noydduna, Jack Nawilil, Graham Rostron, Djungkidj Ngindjalakku, Joshua Rostron, Thomson Yulidjirri, Gabriel Maralngurra, Isaiah Nagurrgurrba, Roy Anderson, and Maxie Buruwei (deceased) for sharing their knowledge and teaching us about rock kangaroos and country. Many thanks also to Jeremy Russell-Smith for help with plant identifications, and Peter Cooke whose dogged enthusiasm and hard work has facilitated the recording of knowledge by some of the key consultants. The comments of David Bowman, Tony Griffiths, and John Woinarski greatly improved the manuscript. This project was funded by the Hermon Slade Foundation, the Key Centre for Tropical Wildlife Management and the Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre.


  1. Altman, J. C. (1984). The dietary utilisation of flora and fauna by contemporary hunter-gatherers at Momega Outstation, north-central Arnhem Land. Australian Aboriginal Studies 1: 35–46.Google Scholar
  2. Baker, L. M., and Mutitjulu Community. (1992). Comparing two views of the landscape: Aboriginal traditional ecological knowledge and modern scientific knowledge. The Rangeland Journal 14: 174–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barker, S. C. (1990). Behaviour and social organisation of the allied rock-wallaby Petrogale assimilis, Ramsay, 1877 (Marsupialia: Macropodoidea). Australian Wildlife Research 17: 301–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Batchelor, T. A. (1980). The social organisation of the brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata) on Motutapu Island. M.Sc. thesis. Department of Zoology, Auckland University, Auckland.Google Scholar
  5. Benshemesh, J. (1997). Caring for Nganamara. WINGSpan Dec 1997: 16–21.Google Scholar
  6. Berkes, F., Colding, J., and Folke, C. (2000). Rediscovery of Traditional Ecological Knowledge as adaptive management. Ecological Applications 10: 1251–1262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board. (1996). Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Plan, part 2, Ottawa, Ontario.Google Scholar
  8. Bolton, B. L., Newsome, A. E., and Merchant, J. C. (1982). Reproduction in the agile wallaby (Gould) in the tropical lowlands of the Northern Territory: Opportunism in a seasonal environment. Australian Journal of Ecology 7: 261–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bowman, D. M. J. S., Garde, M., and Saulwick, A. (2001). Kunj-ken makka man-wurrk, Fire is for kangaroos: Interpreting Aboriginal accounts of landscape burning in central Arnhem Land. In Anderson, A., Lilley, I., and O’Connor, S. (eds.), Histories of Old Ages, Essays in honour of Rhys Jones, Pandanus Books, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra, pp. 61–78.Google Scholar
  10. Burbidge, A. A., Johnson, K. A., Fuller, P. J., and Southgate, R. I. (1988). Aboriginal knowledge of the mammals of the central deserts of Australia. Australian Wildlife Research 15: 9–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Calheiros, D. F., Seidl, A. F., and Ferreira, C. J. A. (2000). Participatory research methods in environmental science: Local and scientific knowledge of a limnological phenomenon in the Pantanal wetland of Brazil. Journal of Applied Ecology 37: 684–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chaloupka, G. (1993). Journey in Time: The World's Longest Continuing Art Tradition. The 50,000-year story of the Australian Aboriginal rock art of Arnhem Land, Reed Books, Chatswood, N.S.W.Google Scholar
  13. Churchill, S. (1997). Habitat use, distribution and conservation status of the nabarlek, Petrogale concinna, and sympatric rock-dwelling mammals, in the Northern Territory. Australian Mammalogy 19: 297–308.Google Scholar
  14. Commonwealth of Australia. (1987). Return to Country: Aboriginal Homelands Movement in Australia. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.Google Scholar
  15. Coulson, G. (1989). Repertoires of social behaviour in the Macropodoidea. In Grigg, G., Jarman, P., and Hume, I. (eds.), Kangaroos, Wallabies and Rat-kangaroos, Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Ltd, New South Wales, pp. 457–473.Google Scholar
  16. Croft, D. B. (1981). Social behaviour of the euro, Macropus robustus (Gould), in the Australian Arid Zone. Australian Wildlife Research 8: 13–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Croft, D. B. (1987). Socio-ecology of the antilopine wallaroo, Macropus antilopinus, in the Northern Territory, with observations on sympatric M. robustus woodwardii and M. agilis. Australian Wildlife Research 14: 243–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dawson, T. J. (1989). Diets of macropodoid marsupials: General patterns and environmental influences. In Grigg, G., Jarman, P., and Hume, I. (eds.), Kangaroos, Wallabies and Rat-kangaroos, Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Ltd, New South Wales, pp. 129–142.Google Scholar
  19. Delaney, R. (1997). Reproductive ecology of the allied rock-wallaby. Petrogale assimilis. Australian Mammalogy 19: 209–218.Google Scholar
  20. Egan, J. L., and Williams, R. J. (1996). Lifeform distributions of woodland plant species along a moisture availability gradient in Australia's monsoonal tropics. Australian Systematic Botany 9: 205–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ellis, B. A., Russell, E. M., Dawson, T. J., and Harrop, C. J. F. (1977). Seasonal changes in diet preferences of free-ranging red-kangaroos, euros and sheep in western New South Wales. Australian Wildlife Research 4: 127–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Environment Australia. (2001). National Objectives and Targets for Biodiversity Conservation 2001–2005, Environment Australia, Canberra.Google Scholar
  23. Ferguson, M. A. D., and Messier, F. (1997). Collection and analysis of Traditional Ecological Knowledge about a population of arctic tundra caribou. Arctic 50: 17–28.Google Scholar
  24. Finlayson, H. H. (1961). On central Australian mammals, part IV—the distribution and status of central Australian species. Records of the South Australian Museum 14: 141–191.Google Scholar
  25. Freeland, W. J., Winter, J. W., and Raskin, S. (1988). Australian rock-mammals: A phenomenon of the seasonally dry tropics. Biotropica 20: 70–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Geelen, L. J. (1999). A preliminary study of the black-footed rock-wallaby (Petrogale lateralis MacDonnell Ranges race) in the Anangu Pitjanjatjara lands, South Australia. Honours thesis. Department of Applied and Molecular Ecology, University of Adelaide, Adelaide.Google Scholar
  27. Henfrey, T. B. (2001). Ethnoecology, resource use, conservation and development in a Wapishana community in the South Rupununi, Guyana. PhD thesis. Department of Anthropology and Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, Canterbury.Google Scholar
  28. Horstman, M., and Wightman, G. (2001). Karparti ecology: Recognition of Aboriginal ecological knowledge and its application to management in north-western Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration 2: 99–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Horsup, A. (1994). Home range of the allied rock-wallaby, Petrogale assimilis. Wildlife Research 21: 65–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Horsup, A., and Marsh, H. (1992). The diet of the allied rock-wallaby, Petrogale assimilis. in the wet-dry tropics. Wildlife Research 19: 17–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Huntington, H. P. (2000). Using Traditional Ecological Knowledge in science: Methods and applications. Ecological Applications 10: 1270–1274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jarman, P. J. (1994). The eating of seedheads by species of Macropodidae. Australian Mammalogy 17: 51–63.Google Scholar
  33. Jarman, P. J., and Bayne, P. (1997). Behavioural ecology of Petrogale penicillata in relation to conservation. Australian Mammalogy 19: 219–228.Google Scholar
  34. Johnson, K. A., Gibson, D. F., Langford, D. G., and Cole, J. R. (1996). Recovery of the mala Lagorchestes hirsutus: a 30-year unfinished journey. In Stephens, S., and Maxwell, S. (eds.), Back from the brink: Refining the threatened species recovery process, Surrey Beatty and Sons, New South Wales, pp. 155–161.Google Scholar
  35. Kennedy, P. M., and Heinsohn, G. E. (1974). Water metabolism of two marsupials—the brush-tailed possum, Trichosurus vulpecula and the rock-wallaby, Petrogale inornata in the wild. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 47: 829–834.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Laws, R. J., and Goldizen, A. W. (2003). Nocturnal home ranges and social interactions for the brush-tailed rock-wallaby Petrogale penicillata at Hurdle Creek, Queensland. Australian Mammalogy 25: 169–176.Google Scholar
  37. Lewis, D. (1988). The rock paintings of Arnhem Land, Australia: Social, ecological and material culture change in the post-glacial period, B.A.R., Oxford, England.Google Scholar
  38. Lim, L., Robinson, A. C., Copley, P. B., Gordon, G., Canty, P. D., and Reimer, D. (1987). The Conservation and Management of the Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby Petrogale xanthopus Gray, 1854, Department of Environment and Planning South Australia, Adelaide.Google Scholar
  39. Lochman, J. (1987). Night drummer on centre stage (Petrogale burbidgei). GEO 9: 14–24.Google Scholar
  40. Lundie-Jenkins, G., and Findlay, E. (1997). Distribution and status of rock-wallabies in the Northern Territory. Australian Mammalogy 19: 175–182.Google Scholar
  41. Mackinson, S. (2001). Integrating local and scientific knowledge: An example in fisheries science. Environmental Management 27: 533–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Maffi, L. (2001). On Biocultural Diversity: Linking language, knowledge and the environment, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.Google Scholar
  43. McKnight, D. (1999). People, Countries and the Rainbow Serpent: Systems of Classification Among the Lardil of Mornington Island, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  44. Menkhorst, P. W. (2001). A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.Google Scholar
  45. Moller, H., Berkes, F., Lyver, P. O., and Kislalioglu, M. (2004). Combining science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Monitoring populations for co-management. Ecology and Society 9: 2 [online URL].Google Scholar
  46. Pardon, L. G., Brook, B. W., Griffiths, A. D., and Braithwaite, R. W. (2003). Determinants of survival for the northern brown bandicoot under a landscape-scale fire experiment. Journal of Animal Ecology 72: 106–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Parker, S. A. (1971). Notes on the small black wallaroo Macropus bernardus (Rothschild, 1904) of Arnhem Land. Victorian Naturalist 88: 41–43.Google Scholar
  48. Pearson, D. J. (1992). Past and present distribution and abundance of the black-footed rock-wallaby in the Warburton region of Western Australia. Wildlife Research 19: 605–622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Press, A. J. (1988). The distribution and status of macropods (Marsupialia: Macropodidae) in Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory. Australian Mammalogy 11: 103–108.Google Scholar
  50. Press, A. J. (1989). The abundance and distribution of black wallaroos Macropus bernardus and common wallaroos Macropus robustus on the Arnhem Land Plateau Australia. In Grigg, G., Jarman, P., and Hume, I. (eds.), Kangaroos, Wallabies and Rat-kangaroos, Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Ltd, New South Wales, Australia.Google Scholar
  51. Raymond, E., Blutja, J., Gin.gina, L., Raymond, M., Raymond, O., Raymond, L., Brown, J., Morgan, Q., Jackson, D., Smith, N., and Wightman, G. (1999). Wardaman ethnobiology. Aboriginal plant and animal knowledge from the Flora River and south-west Katherine region, north Australia, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, Northern Territory University, Darwin.Google Scholar
  52. Robertshaw, J. D., and Harden, R. H. (1989). Predation on macropodidae: A review. In Grigg, G., Jarman, P., and Hume, I. (eds.), Kangaroos, Wallabies and Rat-kangaroos, Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Ltd, New South Wales, Australia.Google Scholar
  53. Russeli-Smith, J., Lucas, D., Gapindi, M., Gunbunuka, B., Kapirigi, N., Namingam, G., Lucas, K., and Chaloupka, G. (1997). Aboriginal resource utilization and fire management practice in western Arnhem Land, monsoonal northern Australia: Notes for prehistory, lessons for the future. Human Ecology 25: 159–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sanson, G. D., Nelson, J. E., and Fell, P. (1985). Ecology of Peradorcas concinna in Arnhemland in a wet and a dry season. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia 13: 65–72.Google Scholar
  55. Short, J., and Smith, A. (1994). Mammal decline and recovery in Australia. Journal of Mammalogy 75: 288–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Spencer, P. B. S. (1991). Evidence of predation by a feral cat, Felis catus (Carnivora: Felidae) on an isolated rock-wallaby colony in tropical Queensland. Australian Mammalogy 14: 143–144.Google Scholar
  57. Strahan, R. E. (1995). The Mammals of Australia, Reed Books, Sydney.Google Scholar
  58. Taylor, J. A., and Dunlop, C. R. (1985). Plant communities of the wet-dry tropics of Australia: The Alligator Rivers region, Northern Territory. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia 13: 83–127.Google Scholar
  59. Taylor, L. (1996). Seeing the Inside: Bark Painting in Western Arnhem Land, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  60. Taylor, R. J. (1983). The diet of the eastern grey kangaroo and wallaroo in areas of improved and native pasture in the New England tablelands. Australian Wildlife Research 10: 203–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Tunbridge, D. (1991). The Story of the Flinders Ranges Mammals, Kangaroo Press, Sydney.Google Scholar
  62. Vigilante, T. (2004). The ethnoecology of landscape burning around Kalumburu Aboriginal community, North Kimberley Region, Western Australia: An examination of the ecological and cultural significance of Aboriginal landscape burning in the North Kimberley using experimental, ethnographic and historical approaches. PhD thesis. Centre for Indigenous Natural and Culture Resource Management, Charles Darwin University, Darwin.Google Scholar
  63. Waddy, J. A. (1988). Classification of Plants and Animals From a Groote Eylandt Aboriginal Point of View, North Australian Research Unit Australian National University, Darwin.Google Scholar
  64. Williams, N. M., and Baines, G. (1993). Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Wisdom for sustainable development, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, Canberra.Google Scholar
  65. Woinarski, J. C. Z. (1992). Biogeography and conservation of reptiles, mammals and birds across north-western Australia: An inventory and base for planning an ecological reserve system. Wildlife Research 19: 665–705.Google Scholar
  66. Woinarski, J. C. Z., Milne, D. J., and Wanganeen, G. (2001). Changes in mammal populations in relatively intact landscapes of Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia. Austral Ecology 26: 360–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Yibarbuk, D. M., Whitehead, P. J., Russell-Smith, J., Jackson, D., Fisher, A., Cooke, P., Choquenot, D., and Bowman, D. J. M. S. (2000). Fire ecology and Aboriginal land management in central Arnhem Land, northern Australia: A tradition of ecosystem management. Journal of Biogeography 28: 325–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School for Environmental ResearchCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  2. 2.Consultant anthropologist/linguistJabiruAustralia

Personalised recommendations