Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Brian Codding | University of Utah) This map shows an area of western Australia (see inset, upper right) surrounding the Parnngurr community occupied by roughly 100 of members of an Aboriginal people known as the Martu. Different shades of brown to yellow indicate the ages of patches of grassy vegetation that grew after the Martu set small fires to catch sand monitor lizards. The circles indicate traditional hunting areas where fires are most set and the Martu hunt for kangaroos.
U. study: Aboriginal fires helped kangaroos thrive
Australia » Kangaroo counts spring on heels of hunting burns.
First Published Aug 05 2014 01:15 pm • Last Updated Aug 06 2014 07:11 am

Modern conservationists might learn something from the strategies some native people have been practicing for thousands of years, suggests a new study co-authored by a University of Utah researcher.

Brian Codding, an assistant anthropology professor at the U., and his co-researchers found that, in Australia, the Aboriginal Martu people’s practice of setting small grass fires to catch lizards actually boosts kangaroo populations. The Martu people have been setting such fires for at least 2,000 years to expose burrows dug by 2-foot-long sand monitor lizards, which they then drag from the holes, cook and eat.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

In the fires’ aftermath, different types of vegetation grow, aiding kangaroos. For example, the marsupials hide from predators such as dingoes in older bush grass and eat shoots and fruits in areas of younger vegetation.

"The significance, really, is that we sort of uncovered a situation where traditional subsistence practices have a benefit to the broader ecosystem," Codding said. "I think this is probably going to be the case in many situations around the world where humans have stable, long-term interactions with their environments.

"This really isn’t a focused conservation effort, but it has the same effects that people might get through conservation."

The fires set by the Martu people average about 10 acres — much smaller than those sparked by lightning, Codding said.

Codding and three other anthropologists — his formal doctoral advisers at Stanford University, senior author Douglas Bird, Rebecca Bliege Bird and Peter Kauhanen — visited western Australia between 2007 and 2010 to conduct the research. The study was published online Monday in the journal Human Ecology.

The study concludes: "To be successful, management schemes should facilitate traditional burning and hunting regimes in remote communities, and incorporate this traditional ecological practice into future management protocols."

Codding said it came as no surprise to the Martu people that their burning has helped kangaroos. In their belief system, known as the dreamtime, they see themselves as part of a larger ecosystem with spiritual elements. Setting the small fires is part of the behavior and law passed down to them through the dreamtime.

The fires seem to have helped the kangaroos even in areas where they’re hunted.


story continues below
story continues below

Codding and his colleagues found that kangaroo populations tended to be highest at moderate distances from villages, rather than very close (where kangaroos are first hunted) or very far (where there’s little hunting and burning). The finding seems to suggest that the benefits of the burning outweigh even the hunting.

lschencker@sltrib.com

Twitter: @LisaSchencker



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.