A small Australian marsupial has been brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to nearly two decades of work, combining traditional Aboriginal knowledge with modern scientific research methodology. Now numbers show that the long-running conservation program to ensure the survival of the endangered mala, also known as rufous hare-wallaby, at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory has proven successful. The small marsupial which once inhabited the spinifex grass country throughout Central Australia has become extinct in the wild, due to habitat degradation caused by settlement, reduction of traditional Aboriginal burning practices and increasing numbers of predators including cats and foxes. The last known wild population became extinct in the Tanami Desert in 1991. Surviving populations are now only held in large predator-proof enclosures in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. In 2004, mala numbers had plummeted to only about 25 animals, but the marsupial's population at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has climbed to over 300 in 2022, thanks to the work of the Mala Conservation Program. Minister for Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, said the program was "just one example" of how Parks Australia staff work successfully with Traditional Owners and scientists to protect Australia's important natural and cultural heritage. "Important programs like this are the reason why Labor has committed to doubling the number of Indigenous Rangers by the end of the decade to 3,800," the Minister said. Since 2004 rangers and science teams have worked alongside Anangu, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park's Traditional Owners, to manage and preserve the mala population, using traditional Aboriginal knowledge to locate the nocturnal animals, identify their food sources and to better understand their habitats and ecosystems. IN OTHER NEWS: Knowledge of wild mala behaviours was captured through oral histories and traditional fire management practices were adopted to lessen the impact of bushfires on the mala's habitat. Shaeleigh Swan, Anangu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park's Acting Natural and Cultural Heritage Ranger, said the mala conservation program was not only significant for the environment and species biodiversity by saving the mala from extinction but also for cultural reasons. "The mala are important to Anangu, through the Tjukurpa stories and customary law, which is the foundation of Anangu life," she said. The program also ensures that traditional ecological knowledge is handed down to young Anangu.