Lumen - The University of Adelaide Magazine The University of Adelaide Australia
Lumen Summer 2016 Issue
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Our youngest donor's birthday wish

Eli Wolkenberg

Eli Wolkenberg
For his fourth birthday, Eli Wolkenberg told his friends not to bring gifts to his party. Instead he asked for donations to save an Australian endangered species – the brush-tailed rock wallaby.

Animal lover and aspiring builder-astronaut-zookeeper, Eli was so happy with the response from his friends that he asked for donations again for his fifth birthday this year. In total he raised $150.

“Many of his classmates donated money and one child and his sister did odd jobs around the house to earn pocket money for their donation,” says Eli’s mother, Karen Winter.

Karen says that Eli happily spends hours watching David Attenborough documentaries and likes to borrow non-fiction and fiction books from the library about animals. “He has many questions about endangered animals and the threats they face, how these are prevented and what we can do to prevent further risk to animals – both in Australia and overseas,” she says.

Dr David Taggart, affiliate Conservation Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide and founding member of the Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby (BTRW) Recovery Program team, says that in his experience, most Australians know very little about their own wildlife but they can easily name many non-Australian mammal species.

“This is a big problem for conservationists in Australia as we must comprehend before we can conserve,” he says. “The brush-tailed rock wallaby is an animal most Australians would never have heard about – the fact that Eli and his family have is amazing.”

The BTRW was once abundant throughout the mountainous country from western Victoria up the Great Dividing Range and into southern Queensland. Numbers declined dramatically from 1850-1920 when pelt-hunting for the fur trade in Europe saw hundreds of thousands of animals shot. The establishment of foxes and cats in Australia have continued their steep decline.

The BTRW is now so few in number that it has become Victoria’s most endangered species with less than 80 remaining. Fewer than 1,500 individuals survive nationally and the species has been nick-named the shadow, after the main character in a 1940s children’s book, entitled Shadow the Rock Wallaby.

David and his team have been actively involved in monitoring wild BTRW populations along the Snowy River in eastern Victoria, in captive breeding, and through the reintroduction of captive-bred animals back into the Grampians National Park. He says that the generous gesture by Eli and his family speaks volumes about their values and appreciation of our unique Australian environment and the wildlife it supports.

“Eli’s gesture touched his many friends and their parents and has helped improve the profile of the endangered brush-tailed rock wallaby within their community,” he says.

“It can be so easy in this field to feel dejected as the problems we face are so overwhelming. It gives me and others in my field great hope when we cross paths with someone like Eli and his family, that there are good people out there who care about our wildlife and who are prepared to do their bit to help turn things around.”

The University sent Eli a certificate of appreciation and photos of the BTRW which Eli has put up on display at his school in Melbourne.

He was told by David that his donations would be used to purchase a camera for documenting the wallabies and to support the captive breeding program at the Waite animal facility. At Waite young wallabies are reared ready for release to the wild or sent to other breeding facilities.

If you would like to support the BTRW, just like Eli, please contact the University on +61 8 8313 5800 or email To find out more about the Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby Recovery Program, email

Story by Genevieve Sanchez


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