(and not a kangaroo or koala in sight!)
1. Thorny devil
This groovy creature is a small spiny dragon, one of the most striking Australian lizards. It walks with a strange rocking motion and has an unusual way of absorbing water – if the animal stands in a puddle or wet sand, capillary action directs the water up the legs and over the surface of its body, eventually funnelled through narrow grooves to its mouth.
Anangu call it ngiyari (sounds like nee-ah-ree)
2. Mala (rufous hare-wallaby)
This small wallaby has big ears and red-brown fur. It used to be abundant in the Northern Territory, but today is all but extinct in the wild. In 2005 we started a program to reintroduce the animal to our park, building a feral-proof fenced-off enclosure for 25 mala. They have bred successfully, and there are now over 250 mala living in this enclosure.
There are around 10,000 crocodiles in Kakadu – a tenth of all the crocs in the Northern Territory!
Freshwater crocs grow up to three metres long while the ‘salties’ (estuarine crocodiles) can grow to a whopping six metres!
Freshwater crocs have a narrow snout and a single row of four large ‘scutes’ right behind their head. Salties have a broader snout and no scutes.
The best way to safely see crocodiles is by going on a commercial boat cruise or from a high point, like Cahills Crossing viewing platform. The dry season is the best time to see them as they concentrate in shrinking water bodies.
(Remember – wherever there’s water, there might be crocs! Be cautious near rivers and billabongs, and pay attention to croc warning signs.)
One of the best populations of the critically endangered largetooth sawfish lives in Kakadu. Have you ever seen anything quite like this creature? It’s one of the planet’s largest fish, growing to over 6 metres long.
Researchers from the National Environmental Science Programme are monitoring the movements of sawfish as part of a study to better understand the species that live in the waterways, where they move to and from, and how they rely on one another. Kakadu’s traditional owners work with researchers, sharing their knowledge of the land, animals and waterways.
5. Blue-tongued lizard (lungkata)
This lizard has a blue tongue which can be seen darting from its mouth to scare away predators.
Albino blue-tongue lizards have pink tongues – and are often called a ‘blizzard lizard’!
Anangu call the blue-tongued lizard lungkata. Lungkata is an important creation ancestor – a greedy blue-tongue lizard man who came to visit Uluru at the beginning of time to steal food from hunters.
6. Water-holding frogs
Did you know frogs live in the desert? Four species of frogs live in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and are well adapted to desert life. They bury themselves deep in the sand at a depth where the temperature is constant. When the rain is heavy enough to soak down to where they have burrowed, they know that the waterholes and creeks are full. They will then emerge, often in vast numbers, to breed. After breeding they bloat themselves full of water and bury below the sand again!
7. Leichhardts grasshopper
This colourful grasshopper only lives in three places in the world, and Kakadu is one of them.
They eat only the Pityrodia plant – and many grasshoppers spend their life munching away on just one shrub.
It’s named after the explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt who reported large numbers of them as he travelled through the area in 1845.
The grasshopper is a sign of the changing seasons at Kakadu, appearing in December/January each year, with the first rains of the monsoon season. Aboriginal people call the grasshopper Alyurr, meaning children of the lightning man, Namarrgon, a powerful ancestral being. The Kakadu region has one of the highest incidences of lightning in the world. Namarrgon is commonly depicted in the region’s rock art with axes hanging from his body, which he uses to strike the clouds.
8. Toad-smart quolls
Northern quolls are having a hard time. Across northern Australia, this native mammal is battling for survival against cane toads and feral predators like cats and wild dogs. Here in Kakadu, we’re partnering with scientists to try and save our quolls.
Some of our quolls are trained to be ‘toad-smart’, so they don’t try to eat the poisonous cane toads, and then they’re released into the wild in Kakadu. The quolls teach their babies the same habits, so even their kids avoid the toads. It’s a great step in protecting this endangered species, and shows what great things science can do.
9. Woma python
Anangu call the non-venomous woma python kuniya (sounds like koon-i-ya). Kuniya holds a very significant place for us all at Uluru as it is one of the creation ancestors of the rock. Kuniya fought a battle with Liru and their tracks can be seen in the face of Uluru.
The woma python grows to about 1.5 metres and mostly catches its prey in burrows where there’s not enough room to constrict the animal. Instead the python pushes a loop of its body against its prey so it is pinned against the side of the burrow.
10. Peregrine falcon
No wonder Marvel named one of their superheroes Le Peregrine. The powerful peregrine is one of the fastest animals on earth, reaching speeds of over 320 kilometres per hour. There is at least one breeding pair at Uluru –staff often see them flying the updrafts around the rock and their nesting sites are visible high up in the nooks on Uluru. It lives in the wild for up to 15 years, and mates for life.
Another breeding pair has been reported at Kata Tjuta – see if you can spot them at late afternoon or early morning in Walpa Gorge and at the Valley of the Winds’ Karingana Lookout.
11. Flatback turtle
These turtles are very special as they only nest in north Australia, including a few places within Kakadu. We’ve been monitoring the nesting for over 20 years and in 2014 two of the turtles were fitted with satellite tags that map where they go between nesting.
Their shell can reach up to about a metre long!
What’s your favourite Aussie animal?