Arid Recovery is divided into six paddocks, each with a unique history and purpose.
Refuge Zone (Main Exclosure; 14km2)
Both the internal and external fences are predator-proof (tall with a floppy top), meaning we can exclude feral cats outside the Reserve as well as the western quolls inside. We aim to keep this pen free from both feral and native mammalian predators, so that we can measure the effects they have on the ecosystem. Maintaining the area will also be a critical insurance area if our release of Western Quolls into the Reserve has unintended consequences on some native animals.
Core Conservation Area (First Expansion; 8km2)
This is the first pen every visitor sees and is where our research station and education centre are located. It is also free of all feral animals and supports populations of all four reintroduced species.
Second Expansion; 8km2. When the reserve was first built, we created a paddock free from both feral animals and native threatened mammals. This allowed the paddock to operate as a control treatment for scientific research, allowing us to disentangle the impacts of reintroduced native animals from the impacts of removing ferals. The paddock has played a critical role in many scientific publications, including research uncovering the positive impacts that bilby digs have on soil condition.
The pen is no longer functioning as a control, and bilbies and bettongs have now returned to the paddock. By increasing the area for these native species, it will allow other native animals with large home ranges like the Western Quoll to be reintroduced.
Northern Expansion; 30km2. This is our largest feral-free paddock. It includes a diverse range of habitats, from long and complex sand dunes, gibber flats and cypress pine patches, to a huge canegrass swamp. Due to its size, this was the last area from which rabbits were removed – taking a full two years.
Experimental Zone (Red Lake Expansion; 26km2)
After this fence had been created and the feral cats and foxes removed, we realised that the future of conservation research in Australia will be uncovering how to enable coexistence between cats and threatened native wildlife. We made the difficult decision to return feral cats into this paddock in a carefully controlled experiment. Our goal is to train bilbies and bettongs to develop appropriate behaviours for surviving alongside feral predators, so that one day they might be able to survive outside the fence entirely. Find out more about this critical research.
Dingo Paddock; 37km2. This paddock was built for Australia’s most detailed study on the interaction between cats, foxes and dingoes. It is a very large area and has a permanent water source, allowing at least two dingoes to live naturally within it. For the experiment, all cats and foxes were removed, and new cats and foxes with GPS collars added. After these animals had time to settle into the paddock, two GPS collared dingoes were also added. Read more here.
The Dingo Paddock is the ideal place to conduct landscape-scale experiments using feral animals in a manageable setting. The paddock is still the site for cutting-edge research. We were recently able to simulate the original rabbit Calicivirus to uncover the impacts it had on cats that prey on rabbits, and are currently using it to test the effectiveness of predator training for bilbies and bettongs in the Red Lake paddock.