Biodiversity

Species Profile and Threats Database


For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
 
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Vulnerable as Liopholis kintorei
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan required, this species had a recovery plan in force at the time the legislation provided for the Minister to decide whether or not to have a recovery plan (19/2/2007).
 
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans A recovery plan for the Great Desert Skink (Egernia kintorei) 2001-2011 (McAlpin, S., 2001) [Recovery Plan] as Liopholis kintorei.
 
Policy Statements and Guidelines Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened reptiles. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.6 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2011m) [Admin Guideline].
 
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument] as Egernia kintorei.
 
Amendment to the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (95) (16/12/2009) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009a) [Legislative Instrument] as Liopholis kintorei.
 
State Government
    Documents and Websites
NT:Threatened Species of the Northern Territory - Great Desert Skink Egernia kintorei (Northern Territory Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport (NT NRETAS), 2006ay) [Information Sheet].
State Listing Status
NT: Listed as Vulnerable (Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2000 (Northern Territory): 2012) as Egernia kintorei
SA: Listed as Endangered (National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (South Australia): June 2011) as Egernia kintorei
WA: Listed as Vulnerable (Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (Western Australia): September 2013) as Liopholis kintorei
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Vulnerable (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2011.2)
Scientific name Liopholis kintorei [83160]
Family Scincidae:Squamata:Reptilia:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Stirling & Zietz, 1893)
Infraspecies author  
Reference M.G. Gardner et al. (2008) Molecular systematics of social skinks: phylogeny and taxonomy of the Egernia group (Reptilia: Scincidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 154: 781-794
Other names Egernia kintorei [1410]
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Liopholis kintorei

Common name: Great Desert Skink

Other names: Tjakura, Warrarna, Mulyamiji

The Great Desert Skink is a large burrowing lizard that can grow up to 44 cm long and weigh up to 350 g. The species has reddish-tan smooth scales, with creamy-lemony flanks and a yellow belly. One of their Aboriginal names - Mulyamiji - means 'red nose' (DEH 2004; EA 2002h).

In the past, the Great Desert Skink appears to have occurred in widespread connected populations (McAlpin 2001) in the Great Sandy, Gibson, Great Victoria and Tanami Deserts in the eastern interior of WA and adjacent areas in the south-western NT and north-western SA (Cogger et al. 1993).

In the NT, most recent records (post 1980) come from the western deserts region from Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park north to Rabbit Flat in the Tanami Desert (NT NRETAS 2006ay).

Specimens have been collected in WA from: Sturt Creek, Godfrey's Tank, Canning Stock Route, near the Warbuton Range (just to the south of the Gibson Desert), Kathleen Valley, around 39 km east-north-east of Laverton, 45 km south-east of Karilywara, and 9 km south-east of Karilywara; in the NT from: the Tanami Desert Sanctuary, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and the adjacent Yulara borefields, Tennant Creek, and around 32 km east of The Granites; and in SA from: Innamincka and near Oodnadatta (McAlpin 1997; Mitchell 1950; Pearson et al. 2001; Storr 1968).

The species appears to be declining throughout its range with many previously known sites no longer supporting populations (McAlpin 1997). Local Aboriginal people led Pearson and colleagues (2001) to the two colonies near Karilywara and knew of no other localities in that area. Within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the species has a clumped distribution, with concentrations of burrows in areas of a few hectares separated by uninhabited, but seemingly suitable, habitat (McAlpin 1997).

The current distribution of the Great Desert Skink consists of seven isolated populations and exceeds 5000 individuals (McAlpin 2001).

Three populations occur in WA at Patjarr (population estimated to be less than 2500 individuals), near the Kiwirrkura community, including the vicinity of Lake Mackay (less than 500 individuals), and in Rudal River National Park (unknown population size).

Three populations occur in the NT in the Tanami Desert, including Rabbit Flat, Sangster's Bore, the Granites and near Kintore, (less than 2250 individuals); in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park including part of the Yulara borefields (less than 500 individuals); and in the Yulara lease lands including part of the Yulara borefields (less than 350 individuals). The population on the Yulara borefields appears to have declined between 1997 and 1999, but this may be due to the skinks' movements to other areas, rather than mortality (McAlpin 1999). The Tanami Desert and Uluru populations are key populations for the species (NT NRETAS 2006ay).

Only one population is known to persist in SA, near Watarru on the Anangu-Pitjantjatjara Lands (less than 50 individuals) (McAlpin 2001).

The Great Desert Skink in conserved in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Watarrka National Park and Newhaven Reserve (a large pastoral lease in the Great Sandy Desert managed for conservation by Birds Australia and the Australian Wildlilfe Conservancy) (NT NRETAS 2006ay).

The Great Desert Skink generally occurs on red sandplains and sand ridges (Cogger et al. 1993).

Populations in the Gibson Desert occur on sandplains with a surface cover of fine gravel (Pearson et al. 2001). Vegetation usually consists of hummock grassland (Triodia basedowii, Triodia pungens and Triodia schinzii), with some scattered shrubs and occasional trees (e.g. Acacia spp., Eucalyptus spp., Hakea spp., Grevillea spp. and Allocasuarina decaisneana) (Cogger et al. 1993; McAlpin 2001).

In the Tanami Desert and parts of the Great Sandy Desert, this skink also occurs on paleodrainage lines with giant termite mounds and Melaleuca shrubs.

The population in SA was found in open Mulga (Acacia aneura) and Minyura (Acacia minyura) woodland over Woollybutt grass (Eragrostis eriopoda) and spinifex (Triodia spp.) (McAlpin 2001).

Sites in WA are dominated by Triodia basedowii and Triodia schinzii with some Eremophila leucophylla shrubs (Pearson et al. 2001). The population at Patjarr WA occurs on a gravelly undulating plain with scattered Black Gidgee (Acacia pruinocarpa) or Mulga over Triodia basedowii and low shrubs (McAlpin 2001).

Regenerating vegetation appears to be a critical habitat requirement (McAlpin 1997). Skinks appear to prefer a mosaic landscape of different aged vegetation and inhabit sites that have been burnt in the previous three to fifteen years (McAlpin 1998, 2001). Preferred habitat has at least 50% bare ground (McAlpin 1998). Regenerating areas may provide ample food while unburnt patches provide shelter (Pearson et al. 2001). The reproductive output of burrows is highest in areas burnt in the previous ten years (McAlpin 2001).

Most Great Desert Skinks enter hibernation by the end of May, though some may wait until mid June. Lizards emerge in September or October (McAlpin 1997).

Most Great Desert Skinks mature when approximately two years old, although, in drought years, maturity may be extended by up to a year. Males are unlikely to breed until they have reached their full size in their third year. One captive female did not reproduce until she was seven years old (McAlpin 1997). The mating season occurs in spring and summer. Males have swollen testes in September and October and receding testes in January (G. Shea cited in Pearson et al. 2001). Births probably occur between December and February (McAlpin 1997; Pearson et al. 2001). Litter size ranges between one and seven (McAlpin 1997; Pearson et al. 2001). 

Great Desert Skinks construct large burrow complexes up to 13 m in diameter, with as many as twenty entrances (McAlpin et al. 2011). Large complexes may take two summers to excavate (McAlpin 2001). Family groups share a single burrow complex and defecate at a nearby latrine (Pearson et al. 2001). It has recently been found that up to 4 generations of individuals may inhabit the same burrow system, each age class responsible for different maintenance duties (McAlpin et al. 2011). Burrow use appears to be somewhat dynamic, with lizards known to abandon burrows and excavate new ones. The pattern of burrow occupation and abandonment may be due to resource availability (McAlpin 1997, McAlpin et al. 2011).

The majority of reproductively active burrow complexes are 5 m or more in diameter. Females appear to be capable of producing young in successive years (McAlpin 1997).

Dispersal occurs when the skinks reach maturity in their second year, with young skinks often living alone in small burrow systems (McAlpin 1997). It is at this time that predation pressure is likely to be greatest (McAlpin 2001).

Skinks may live to an old age, with other species in the genus living over 20 years in captivity (McAlpin 2001).

Great Desert Skinks bask near their burrows in the early morning and late afternoon, and venture further at night to forage. The species consumes a variety of invertebrates including beetles, cockroaches, ants, spiders and termites. Small vertebrates are also eaten, with one record of a scat containing a 200 mm long Blindsnake (Ramphotyphlops spp.). During good seasons they also consume a variety of plant material such as Bush Tomato (Solanum spp.) fruits, Parakeelya (Calandrina spp.) leaves, and Paper Daisy (Leucochrysum stipitatum) flowers. Bush Tomatoes (Solanum centrale) appear to be an important food source in regenerating herbfields in the Gibson Desert (Pearson et al. 2001).

Scat analysis reveals that skinks eat their own shed skin (McAlpin 1997). Termites form a major part of the diet of Great Desert Skinks from Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Following good summer rains the skinks feed heavily on termite alates (with wings) by darting out at them as they pass or waiting next to cracks from which the alates are emerging (McAlpin 1997).

Great Desert Skinks may move up to 100 m from their burrow when foraging. Individuals may move 10 km or more to colonise new areas (McAlpin 2000).

Fire Regimes

The cessation of traditional land management practices over most of the western deserts region has created a new fire regime. Vast areas remain unburnt for many years. When a fire eventually burns in these unmanaged areas, either by lightning strike or through human intervention, it is likely to be a very hot, extensive fire that creates a huge swath of burnt country with few patches of unburnt habitat within it. Small animal populations at the edge of such a fire may be able to survive, but the chance of finding a suitable patch of unburnt habitat for most animals within the fire zone is greatly diminished. Over time such a fire regime is likely to eliminate most populations until only a few fragmented, small populations persist (McAlpin 2001).

The only populations of the Great Desert Skink that appear to be secure are found in areas that currently have intensive fire management occurring. One of these populations is in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park where patch burning has been recommenced to enhance biodiversity conservation as well as to mitigate the threat of extensive wildfire. In other populations, intensive fire management has been as a result of continuous traditional hunting practices. Optimal patch-burn size for the Great Desert Skink is as yet unknown. Current adaptive management practices at Uluru, combined with continued population monitoring, should enable a patch burning prescription to be developed for possible application in other parts of the western deserts region (McAlpin 2001).

Predation and Competition by Ferals

Both the Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and the Cat (Felis catus) have been identified as predators of Great Desert Skinks. Cats prey on the skinks, particularly juveniles, by sitting near a burrow entrance and waiting to pounce on a lizard when it emerges (S. McAlpin pers. obs. cited in McAlpin 2001). The impact of this predation pressure on Great Desert Skink populations is currently poorly understood (McAlpin 2001).

Foxes catch skinks after dark when the lizards are actively foraging out from their burrows (I. Noble pers. comm. cited in McAlpin 2001). The extent of this predation is unknown as is the overall threat to the species or to individual populations.

The Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has been recorded moving in to one active burrow system of the Great Desert Skink, causing the lizards to abandon the burrow system (McAlpin 1997).

Mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda)  are known to prey on Great Desert Skinks (S. McAlpin pers. comm. cited in McAlpin 2001), possibly concentrating on juvenile or hibernating lizards.

Traditional Food Source

The species is important both as food and lore to the Pitjantjatjira and Pintupi people (D. Carter cited in Cogger et al. 1993; Pearson et al. 2001). Older Pintupi women still hunt it occasionally (Pearson et al. 2001).

Tourism

Populations at Yulara (near Uluru) are threatened from increasing tourism development. Tourism infrastructure at Yulara and within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has occasionally been inadvertently sited close to active Great Desert Skink burrows, resulting in burrow abandonment, or mortality of lizards on roads (McAlpin 2001). Spinifex harvesting conducted as part of a fire management program around tourism infrastructure at Yulara also threatens to resident populations of Great Desert Skinks in this area (McAlpin 2001).

Groundwater Extraction

A significant population of Great Desert Skinks occurs in the Yulara borefields area, where the water supply for Yulara township is sourced. There are some concerns that planned increases in the volume of artesian water harvested may impact on the biologically diverse borefield's flora and fauna, including Great Desert Skink populations (McAlpin 2001).

A National Recovery Plan for the species was adopted in 2001 (McAlpin 2001).  Key objectives of the Plan are to: 

  • maintain or improve the conservation status of the Great Desert Skink over the next ten years.
  • change fire and feral animal management in three focus areas of the western deserts to benefit populations of the Great Desert Skink.

Commonwealth Grants

Arid Lands Environment Centre (WA) received $19 000 of funding through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2001-02, part of which was for a three week survey along the Canning Stock Route to gather information on the distribution, status and habitat requirements of the Great Desert Skink. Information was to be used for the formulation of a joint national recovery plan and to provide information on other nationally threatened species.

Parngurr Community Inc (WA) received $44 460 of funding through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2006-07, part of which was for gathering of detailed information on the ecology and behaviour of this species; localised control of feral predators; and documentation of project work by young Martu from community schools.

Tangentyere Council Inc (NT) received $15 000 of funding through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2001-02, part of which was for examination of the use of Aboriginal predation and fire management techniques to protect threatened fauna such as the Great Desert Skink in the Tanamai Desert.

Central Land Council (NT) received $23 640 of funding through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2003-04, part of which was for monitoring distribution and abundance of the Great Desert Skink in areas that are baited to control Foxes and unbaited areas of the Tanamai Desert.

Ngaanyatjarra Council (Aboriginal Corporation) (WA) received $33 000 of funding through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2005-06, part of which was for monitoring population, habitat changes and predation levels of the Great Desert Skink, and updating of the Ngaanyatjarra threatened species database.

Anangu Pitjantjatjara Inc in SA (AP) received $14 000 of funding through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2001-02 to: protect populations of this species through land management practices such as traditional patch burning and the testing of a bounty system for hunting feral Cats and Foxes; facilitate the search for new populations using traditional knowledge, vegetation maps and fire history data; and evaluate habitat to gain more information on critical habitat.

Ngaanyatjarra Council (NT) received $16 000 of funding through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2002-03 for survey of potential habitat for this species, recording and monitoring of burrows, examination of the impact of predators and continued patch burning to improve habitat.

Anangu Pitjantjatjara Land Management (NT) received $21 050 of funding through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2002-03 for the protection of known populations of this species by managing land through traditional fire regimes, control of feral Cats and Foxes, the training of staff in the use of GIS, and searching for further populations.

Tangentyere Council Inc (NT) received $19 440 of funding through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2003-04 for the establishment of a monitoring program for this species in the Nyirripi region, examination of distribution and abundance in relation to fire history of the area, mapping using satellite imagery, predator control and analysis of predator diets, survey work and patch burning, and the recording of traditional knowledge.

Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land (SA) received $20 200 of funding through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2003-04 for protection of populations on AP lands through patch burning, predator and threat mitigation and monitoring, searching for further populations, baseline threat and predator assessments for each new population, and management of planning around new colonies.

Parngurr Community Inc (WA) received $21 850 of funding through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2003-04, part of which was for tracking surveys over parts of the Great Sandy Desert to map populations of this species on Martu Lands, and for fire management aimed at improving country for this species.

Management documents relevant to the species are at the start of the profile.

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Biological Resource Use:Gathering Terrestrial Plants:Inappropriate and illegal collection of plants A recovery plan for the Great Desert Skink (Egernia kintorei) 2001-2011 (McAlpin, S., 2001) [Recovery Plan].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Vulpes vulpes (Red Fox, Fox) A recovery plan for the Great Desert Skink (Egernia kintorei) 2001-2011 (McAlpin, S., 2001) [Recovery Plan].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Felis catus (Cat, House Cat, Domestic Cat) A recovery plan for the Great Desert Skink (Egernia kintorei) 2001-2011 (McAlpin, S., 2001) [Recovery Plan].
Natural System Modifications:Fire and Fire Suppression:Inappropriate and/or changed fire regimes (frequency, timing, intensity) A recovery plan for the Great Desert Skink (Egernia kintorei) 2001-2011 (McAlpin, S., 2001) [Recovery Plan].
Residential and Commercial Development:Tourism and Recreation Areas:Alteration of marine and land environments associated with tourism A recovery plan for the Great Desert Skink (Egernia kintorei) 2001-2011 (McAlpin, S., 2001) [Recovery Plan].

Cogger, H.G., E.E. Cameron, R.A. Sadlier & P. Eggler (1993). The Action Plan for Australian Reptiles. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Australian Nature Conservation Agency. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/action/reptiles/index.html.

Department of Environment and Heritage (2004). Australian Threatened Species: Great Desert Skink. [Online]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/desert-skink.html.

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC) (2011m). Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened reptiles. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.6 . [Online]. Canberra, ACT: DSEWPaC. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/publications/threatened-reptiles.html.

Environment Australia (2002h). Great Desert Skink - Egernia kintorei.

McAlpin, S. (1997). Conservation of the Great Desert Skink, Egernia kintorei, at Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park, N.T. Page(s) 1-63. Canberra: ANCA.

McAlpin, S. (1998). Establishing a surveillance and monitoring program for Tjakura, Egernia kintorei, at Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park. Page(s) 1-19. Canberra: Environment Australia.

McAlpin, S. (1999). Monitoring Tjakura at Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park. Page(s) 1-9. Canberra: Parks Australia.

McAlpin, S. (2000). Monitoring Tjakura at Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park. Page(s) 1-10. Canberra: Parks Australia.

McAlpin, S. (2001). A recovery plan for the Great Desert Skink (Egernia kintorei) 2001-2011. [Online]. Alice Springs: Arid Lands Environment Centre. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/recovery/great-desert-skink/index.html.

Mitchell, F.J. (1950). The scincid genera Egernia and Tiliqua (Lacertilia). Records of the South Australian Museum. 9 (3):275-308.

Northern Territory Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport (NT NRETAS) (2006ay). Threatened Species of the Northern Territory - Great Desert Skink Egernia kintorei. [Online]. Available from: http://lrm.nt.gov.au/plants-and-animals/threatened-species/specieslist.

Pearson, D., P. Davies, N. Carnegie & J. Ward (2001). The Great Desert Skink (Egernia kintorei) in western Australia: distribution, reproduction and ethno-zoological observations. Herpetofauna. 31(1):64-68.

Storr, G.M. (1968). Revision of the Egernia whitei species-group (Lacerita : Scincidae). Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia. 51:51-62.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Liopholis kintorei in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Mon, 21 Apr 2014 19:56:49 +1000.