Jenolan Caves

Animal Sanctuary for 100 years

March 9, 2021

Crimson Rosella anongst wisteria at Jenolan CavesJenolan is located in isolated, rugged bushland, on the western edge of the Blue Mountains of NSW.  Before European settlers discovered the caves, the surrounding area was teeming with native wildlife. But over time, with no checks on foxes and recreational shooters, fashions involving animal skins and bird features and the nineteenth century taxidermy fad, wildlife numbers sadly began to decline.  

Jenolan declared wildlife sanctuary in Oct 1920Fortunately, Jenolan was officially declared a wildlife sanctuary in October 1920 – just over a century ago. Along with Wombeyan and Yarrangobilly Caves, Jenolan was one of the first wildlife sanctuaries to be created in Australia, and we have been doing all the right things since then to help our wildlife thrive.

Jenolan declared a reserve in 1866Why was Jenolan Caves chosen as an animal sanctuary?  The caves themselves were already a reserve since 1866, thanks to the efforts of John Lucas M.L.A., and since 1872, it has been illegal to damage any cave formations. 

But hunting was not illegal.   In 1888, a Sydney Morning Herald article said, “Young fellows often bring their guns and try their inexperienced hands at lyre-bird, wallaby and platypus shooting, and find good appetites at any rate.”  It’s hard to imagine that these days.  

By the 1920s, through the good work of Chief Guide, James Wiburd, all wildlife on the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve had become protected.   In 1929, a Grafton Daily Examiner article, said “This taming of the wild has been portion of the life’s work of James Carvosso Wiburd, the snowy-haired, benevolent and beloved superintendent of the caves.  He is a second St. Francis of Assisi, and his tall, hatless figure is known to every bird and animal in the 36 square miles sanctuary which surrounds Jenolan, and which he persuaded the Government to declare a home for the birds, animals, reptiles and flowers he loves and protects.”   It is worth reading the whole Grafton Daily Examiner article, which paints an idyllic picture in great detail.

damaging caves declared illegalbrush-tailed rock wallabyThese days, Jenolan works with the National Parks and Wildlife Service to ensure that Jenolan’s wildlife is never disrupted by the many thousands of annual visitors to the caves.

After a hundred years of protection, an abundance of birds and animals now thrive in the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve.  Drivers have to be very watchful on the roads, because of wallabies, kangaroos, and wombats crossing. And while bushwalking at Jenolan, visitors might spot platypus, lyrebirds, rosellas, currawongs, swamp wallabies, brush-tailed rock wallabies and echidnas. In the warmer months, there are water skinks and large lizards – Water dragons and Cunningham Skinks. Sometimes Wallaroos are seen, and sometimes (oh dear) even snakes!  At night, in the caves precinct, overnight guests might spot possums and wombats.  And there is wildlife underground, although not as often seen - Eastern Bent-wings, a species of microbat.

Jenolan is home to many more species than those just mentioned. At a Jenolan Bio-Blitz in 2018, sightings of more than 200 species, including insects, were logged on a single weekend.[i]  NSW is very blessed to have a place like Jenolan.

Platypus at Jenolan CavesWorld Wildlife Day was last week, on March 3.  For the United Nations, World Wildlife Day has become the most important global annual event dedicated to wildlife. The 2021 “theme was ‘Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet’ as a way to highlight the central role of forests, forest species and ecosystems services in sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people globally, and particularly of Indigenous and local communities with historic ties to forested and forest-adjacent areas…World Wildlife Day celebrates forest-based livelihoods and seeks to promote forest and forest wildlife management models and practices that accommodate both human well-being and the long-term conservation of forests, forest-dwelling species of wild fauna and flora and the ecosystems they sustain…”[ii]

Eastern water dragon at Jenolan cavesLyrebird at Jenolan CavesWhy is it important for all of us to be aware of World Wildlife Day?  The day is our reminder to think about the many beautiful and varied forms of wild fauna and flora, such as those found at Jenolan, and how they benefit us. It is also a day to think about what we can do, even if only in a very small way, to stop the loss of bio-diversity. And why is biodiversity essential? Biodiversity provides functioning ecosystems that supply oxygen, clean air and water, pollination of plants, pest control, wastewater treatment and many ecosystem services. Any loss or deterioration in biodiversity can affect human wellbeing.[iii]

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4655 Jenolan Caves Road, Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountains NSW. Ph: 1300 76 33 11 or +61 2 6359 3911

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