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Australia declares largest protected zone

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11 July 2012 by Luke McCormick

The Australian Government has created the largest conservation zone in the country, a 24 million acre Indigenous Protected Area (IPA in the Northern Territory.

The new Tanami Desert Aboriginal desert reserve is 30% bigger than the state of Tasmania and is home to some of the country's most endangered species, including the small bilby marsupial, great desert skink and burrowing lizard.

Aboriginal groups and Indigenous rangers will manage the area and work to protect it, overseeing weed, fire and animal management.

It is hoped the deal will create jobs for Indigenous people from the area. The Federal Government will spend $1.6 million over the next two years to fund land management, with a further $500,00o provided by philanthropic group The Nature Conservancy.

At a ceremony in the remote outback community of Sangsters Bore, about 600km north-west of Alice Springs, dozens of traditional owners were on hand to welcome the announcement that has been four years in making, following discussions between government, Aboriginal groups and environmentalists.

"Today is an emotional day. Today really a freedom day," said Eddie Jampijinpa Robertson, a Warlpiri elder from Yuendumu, on Tuesday, according to Australian Geographic.
"When we look after the land, it is what our Dreaming is."
Traditional owner Lottie Robertson said: "The Southern Tanami belongs to Warlpiri people... we now have young rangers who learn to look after country."

The area is part of the Trans-Australia Eco-link, a conservation corridor that stretches 3,500km from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory to South Australia's Great Australian Bight.

The IPA status means Aboriginal people will have more say in how the land is cared for both environmentally and culturally.

"In this IPA, Warlpiri rangers will combine science with Indigenous ecological knowledge to deliver new solutions to challenges around issues such as fire management, feral animals, and weed control," said the Nature Conservancy's Peter Taylor. "But it will also ensure that indigenous knowledge and culture is kept alive and that areas of high conservation significance are protected against new threats."

A statement from the Nature Conservancy said "[the IPA] includes two internationally important sites for conservation - the southwest Tanami Desert and Lake Mackay. The ancient land contains habitat critical to the survival of many of Australia's threatened species, including the bilby, mulgara, and great desert skink. Southern Tanami also includes important wetlands, breeding sites for waterbirds, and rare and threatened plants."

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