Words by Smiley Team
A family in Australia are living, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere in order to help endangered species and try to restore the desert.
Dr Rebecca West and her husband, Dr Reece Pedler, live with four-year-old Isla and nine-month-old Zac in a remote part of New South Wales.
To see other children at a playgroup means a 300km round trip and a supermarket trip is a 12-hour journey there and back. The couple are ecologists on a mission to push back against the extinction crisis in Australia and globally.
Rebecca and Reece have sacrificed proximity to their families back in Adelaide and the ordinary luxury of a coffee shop or a meal out, in order to work with endangered species.
The couple are reintroducing locally extinct mammals that had not been seen in the area for more than a century. “There are species that have gone extinct on our watch and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again," Rebecca told ABC News.
Rebecca grew up in the UK and has fond memories of animals in her childhood – at 12 years old, her dad took a job as director of Chester Zoo.
“I swapped green, grey and rainy England for red dust, dry, outback Australia," she said. "I felt like I was at home, even though I was very far from home."
Her husband, Reece grew up on his family’s farm in the mid-north of South Australia and was also introduced to the ways of animals by his parents. The couple, married in 2017, heard about the Wild Deserts project and decided to sell themselves as a double act, Reece the project coordinator and Rebecca the project’s ecologist.
It has the backing of conservationist Jane Goodall, who says it, "aims to repopulate the remote and beautiful Sturt Desert with native animals that once roamed free but are now rare and endangered.”
The first three of seven animals have now been released: the greater bilby, the crest-tailed mulgaras and the Shark Bay bandicoots.
All the animals were chosen not because they were locally extinct, but also because they have important roles to play in the desert ecosystem.
Rebecca often feels “mother guilt” about raising Isla and Zac in such a remote place. “But then I think, ‘Wow, what a childhood’. They are one of the few children [who] would know what a lot of these Australian native species are that are really important to our biodiversity," she said.
Photo credit: UNSW Sydney/Richard Freeman
LEARN MORE: Find out more about the Wild Deserts project.
VOLUNTEER: The Wild Deserts Project is in collaboration with the Taronga Conservation Society – find out how you can support them.