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Watti Watti/Mudhla Mudhla 1

Looking ahead

Watti Watti/Mudhla Mudhla 1

10 Day Survey - July 23 > August 1, 1 day 4WD/8.5 days trekking/1 day 4WD

Survey price: $6000


Survey Grade:

​This survey will spend it's entire time in the fascinating open white dune country to the north of the Warburton River floodplain, and we will be visiting several large salt lakes.

The objective of the journey is twofold: to search for more evidence of habitation sites in the proximity of the mikiri visited in the previous survey and conduct a benchmark flora & fauna survey. This will be our first time walking in this area.

As with all our surveys, we will move slowly through the landscape, as we endeavour to record what is living in this beautiful part of the Simpson Desert. 

In collaboration with the University of New England, we will be continuing our Scat Collection which involves collecting and documenting all dog/cat/raptor scats for analysis at a later date to determine the diet of dingos, cats, foxes and larger birds of prey. This proven methodology is the best way to see what was recently living in this area and this is of great interest to Professor Karl Vernes who has been researching mammal extinction in this part of the desert.


Karl's particular focus is the desert rat-kangaroo or ngudlukanta (Caloprymnus campestris), the lesser bilby or yallara (Macrotis leucura), bilby (Macrotis lagotis), and plains mouse (Pseudomys australis). The last time any of those four species were seen in the area was 93 years ago in 1931 as recorded by mammalogist Hedley Herbert Finlayson, however that does not necessarily mean that there are not isolated small colonies living deep in the desert. As we discovered in 2023, the greater bilby was active in an area further north in Queensland that was presumed not to have a bilby presence.

The current status of the desert rat-kangaroo is described below in this summary from the 2021 published paper. As described below, the vastness and inaccessibility of much of the terrain is where our camel teams come to the fore, as we are a slow moving operation focused on looking at the small details in the landscape. We see everything.

So a walking survey provides the best possible way to discover the health of the landscape, and who knows what we will find...


A search for the desert rat-kangaroo or ngudlukanta (Caloprymnus campestris)

in north-eastern South Australia
Karl Vernes, A H , Stephen M. Jackson, Todd F. Elliott, Kelsey Elliott and Steven G. Carr

The desert rat-kangaroo or ‘ngudlukanta’ (Caloprymnus campestris) was once sparsely distributed in the Lake Eyre Basin of north-eastern South Australia and adjacent parts of Queensland, but has not been collected since the 1930s. However, numerous reported sightings, including some recent, provide some hope that it may still be extant. In 2018 and 2019, we searched for evidence of this species at sites where it had been collected in the 1930s, and at places where people have since reported seeing an animal that fits its description. Our survey, which analysed data from more than 6000 camera trap nights, 536 predator scats and 226 km of spotlight transects, was the most extensive field-based search ever undertaken for this animal; but we found no evidence for its continued existence. However, our work did detect other threatened species including a range extension for the kowari (Dasyuroides byrnei), thereby demonstrating the value of surveys like this one. Because of the vastness and inaccessibility of much of the terrain comprising the supposed distribution of C. campestris, we do not see our null result as definitive for this poorly surveyed animal; we instead hope that it provides a starting point for future surveys aimed at resolving its status.

rat kanga
rat kangaroo

Caloprymnus campestris as drawn by John Gould.

(Image in the public domain).

More information about this lost & found desert bettong can be seen here at the Australian Museum.

extinct marsupial

Desert Rat Kangaroo habitat circa 1931. Image: H.H. Finlayson
© Library & Archives NT, NTA2011/0061, Finlayson 2, Images 156-316, Diamantina and Central Australia, 1931_ Item 220. 

on the move

During the trip you walk alongside our team of packcamels accompanied by 4 cameleers who are your crew for the duration of the survey. Our cameleers are not 'tour guides', they are experienced and seasoned stockmen/women who are specialists in handling and working with camels, and have a wealth of experience in walking the desert and general knowledge of its flora & fauna, and are respectful of our First Nations people who call Munga-Thirri home.​

Walking in this landscape is on firm sand and occasional claypans. If the eastern Simpson receives good soaking rain in late March/early April, there may be a profusion of yellow flowers such as poached-egg daisy & 'Yellowtop' covering the landscape, and supplying our camels with fresh feed.... however it's not until we actually get out there in April 2024 that we will know the extent of any rainfall and corresponding seasonal conditions.

July/August is ideal walking weather in Central Australia and over the course of a 5 to 6 hour walking day you would walk approximately between 8 to 10 kilometres.  Our pace of travel is determined by the camels and their ability to negotiate the dunes or other landforms in the landscape. They carry all your personal gear, and all you have to carry is your day pack. We will of course be stopping as required depending on what we see as we walk along.

This is a very real, very Australian desert experience, and camels are the perfect cross-country vehicle and so we don't follow roads or tracks, and there is no vehicle back-up: we don't need it! Camps are chosen for the availability of camel feed, and we never camp in the same place twice. And in addition, as we are Australia's only scientific organisation that also specialises in remote desert travel, you won't 'bump into' any other groups of trekkers.​​

What's included

4WD transfers to/from Birdsville to the eastern Simpson Desert fringe

All camping equipment - swags, stools, tents. You bring your own sleeping bag and eating utensils

All meals, though we do not provide snacks

LOTS of space...

Survey RFDS Medical Chest, First Aid and emergency communications equipment

Crew of 4 to 5 cameleers and 1 ecologist/scientist (perhaps 2) who specialis in desert ecology

Desert Silence!

Trekking with an environmentally aware responsible business 

(A detailed Survey Information Guide is sent to you when you book)

What's not included

Pre and post survey airfares and accommodation. You are responsible for arranging your travel to/from Birdsville and any accommodation. We can help organise this for you

Please look at this page How To Get To Birdsville

What else is required?

Travel Insurance. You have the option to arrange your own travel insurance, or you can contact us for a quote.

Where are we trekking?

In the lower shaded area of the map in the Simpson Desert, South Australia. The Simpson is the world's largest parallel sand ridge desert

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