Small Dunnarts, giant discoveries in the Great Victoria Desert

A Sandhill Dunnart. Photo copyright Ray Lloyd

Findings from a Greening Australia survey of the endangered Sandhill Dunnart are helping to uncover some of the mystery surrounding the mid-sized, insect-eating marsupial.

In one of the organisation’s largest surveys to date, Greening Australia deployed 138 cameras at 20 sites across the Great Victoria Desert in search of the secretive Sandhill Dunnart – not only detecting the endangered marsupial in two locations, but also providing important information about many of the region’s other threatened wildlife.

The ambitious survey, commissioned by the Great Victoria Desert Biodiversity Trust, was conducted from September to December last year and combined practical, applied science with on-ground knowledge of this remote and beautiful landscape.

Locations across the vast 212,000 km2 survey area were prioritised with the help of the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, with each motion sensor camera strategically placed in specific habitats and tuned in to capture footage of even minute movements.

Photos copyright Joe Meadham


Dr Blair Parsons, Greening Australia’s Science and Programs Leader – Western Region said: “Little was known about the distribution of the Sandhill Dunnart population prior to undertaking the project, so discovering two new sites with dunnarts and other large areas of favourable habitat outside of their known range gives us a lot of hope that we will find more in the region.”

Populations of Sandhill Dunnarts were once far more widespread but modified fire regimes, predation by feral cats and other threats have significantly depleted populations.

“There is still much more to learn about the biology and ecology of this species, and the threats they face, so a project like this is crucial in setting a platform for undertaking further studies and guiding on-ground management,” he said.

A number of unexpected discoveries were also made during the survey, with a total of 52 different species appearing in the 170,000 images recorded by the cameras, and a further 24 via opportunistic observation.

Spinifex Hopping Mice dancing in the desert.


Amongst the surprising finds was the first record of a Spinifexbird in the Great Victoria Desert, evidence of Malleefowl – an endangered mound-building bird threatened by fire and predators in this region – and sightings of the Great Desert Skink, which was last officially recorded in the Great Victoria Desert in the 1960s.

Other threatened species discovered during the survey include the Western Quoll, Black-flanked Rock Wallaby and Brush-tailed Mulgara.

Following the success of the survey, Greening Australia is working with the Trust to conduct follow up surveys. These surveys will investigate local abundance and habitat preferences and are planned to draw on expertise and seek involvement of Traditional Owners.

“We would like to go back and continue our research in areas where we detected the Sandhill Dunnart and also further north. This area contains some of the best intact desert habitat I have ever seen. The potential for us to uncover new and significant findings in this area is exciting.”

Media enquiries:

Dr Blair Parsons, Greening Australia’s Science and Programs Leader – Western Region
ph. 0475 956 689