Warrawong Sanctuary

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‘Burke’s Backyard’ visited Warrawong Sanctuary near Adelaide in South Australia where Dr John Wamsley has set up an extensive re-vegetation program and the careful re-introduction of native animals to the area. Vital to the success has been the ‘feral free fence’, which keeps out the feral foxes and cats. The sanctuary is home to a number of different native animals including: rainbow lorikeets; finches; red kangaroos; Western grey kangaroos; and Eastern quolls, which have been hand-raised in the sanctuary and brought back from near extinction on mainland Australia.

John Wamsley


Dr John Wamsley is renowned for his strong feelings about feral animals and their effect on Australia’s wildlife. One of the sad things about Australia, he says, is that it has become an alien place for the native wildlife. National parks have been set aside to preserve the wildlife but they are not enclosed to keep out feral animals such as cats and foxes.

Dr Wamsley feels that rather than land clearance, mining or farming, cats and foxes have been responsible for much of the destruction of Australian wildlife. While John Wamsley accepts that cats make wonderful pets (and he admits to personally liking cats), he is passionately opposed to both feral cats and to domestic cats which are allowed to wander into bushland.

The University of Adelaide estimates that in Australia each year cats kill 32 million birds, 60 million mammals and 30 million reptiles.

“Cats are the big baddie in Australia. It was not land clearance, mining or farming which destroyed Australian wildlife but cats owned by conservationists”, he says.

Although John Wamsley accepts that people love their pet cats, he feels there must to be laws regulating cat ownership. These laws are being introduced now in some parts of Australia.

If all cats were registered, says John, owners would be forced to become more responsible for them and would consequently be more aware of the problem.

The sanctuary sells cat skin rugs and cat skin hats. They are in need of cat skin suppliers and will pay $20 each for properly tanned cat skins.

Valuing wildlife


The philosophical idea that has been held worldwide regarding wildlife is that they have been given a zero value. This requires an expectation of good will from the people to save them. John Wamsley believes this thinking needs to be changed and that wildlife needs to be bred in captivity and sold to add value to their conservation.

Home gardeners can also change their attitudes and make their backyards more friendly to native animals, in particular native birds. Simply plant bird attracting plants, those that are suited to the southern hemisphere and are bird pollinated. In general the northern hemisphere plants are insect pollinated and often have petals to attract bees while the southern hemisphere plants are bird pollinated and generally do not have petals but features that are bird attracting, like honeyeaters.

Warrawong Sanctuary


John Wamsley’s answer to the problem has been to set up Warrawong Sanctuary at Mylor in South Australia. Warrawong provides 14ha (35 acres) of sanctuary for over 20 species of native mammals including bettongs, potoroos, pademelons, Tamar wallabies, large kangaroos, bandicoots, quolls and phascogales.

One sign of the sanctuary’s success is that they have managed to successfully breed platypuses. The first platypus bred in captivity since 1943 was bred at Warrawong in 1991 from three juveniles collected on Kangaroo Island. (The platypus is considered extinct in South Australia).

The sanctuary has also successfully bred Eastern quolls which had disappeared from the wild on mainland Australia. Wamsley claims the results are due to the fact that the sanctuary does not try to breed animals in cages but has set up the surroundings to be as natural as possible. Rather than expensive breeding techniques he says, “all (the animals) want is a bit of Australia”.

Five different habitats have been created: grassland, shrub-scrub, dry and wet forests and wetlands. Warrawong is now reminiscent of the Adelaide Hills as they may have been before Europeans arrived. There are 20 ponds and lakes running the length of the property, teeming with ducks and birds. A two kilometre protective fence was eventually built to keep out cats and foxes, after which rare indigenous animals were introduced. The fence is loosely hung and curved underground to prevent foxes from climbing over or digging under the fence.

Further information


Dawn, day and nocturnal walks are conducted at Warrawong Sanctuary, Stock Road, Mylor, South Australia. Bookings are essential. Phone (08) 8370 9422. Overnight stays in cabin style accommodation include evening/dawn walks and meals. All bookings can be made by phoning Warrawong Sanctuary. There are also native plants for sale, a craft shop and a licensed restaurant.  

For more information about becoming a shareholder in the public company Earth Sanctuaries Ltd. and having a say in how native animals are conserved, write to PO Box 35, Stirling, SA, 5152 or phone: (08) 8370 9422 or fax: (08) 8370 8332. The company requires shareholders hold a minimum of 500 shares at $1.50 each.