Plants and animals

Kakadu is a timeless place - beautiful and diverse beyond belief.

We are home to more than 2,000 plant species and some of the most charismatic animals around.

Get up close to the local wildlife or learn more on a guided tour.

Download our Kakadu birds iphone app to meet some of our favourite species and find out where to spot them.

  • Plants

    With more than 2,000 plant species, Kakadu is bursting with life. Many of our plants have been used by local Aboriginal people for generations as bush foods, medicines and weaving materials.

    • Pandanus

      Gonggirr is the most common of the three species of pandanus found in Kakadu. It is easily recognised by its ‘cork-screw’ leaf arrangement.

      The dead leaves hang in skirts, providing a sanctuary for wrens, bats, mice and lizards. The ripe orange fruits are a favourite food of sulphur-crested cockatoos.

      Aboriginal people use the leaves of this pandanus for weaving baskets and mats. The large clusters of woody nuts, madjamairerri, contain seeds that are eaten raw or roasted.

    • Speargrass

      This tall grass lines Kakadu’s lowlands in the late tropical summer (February-March), when its flower spikes can grow up to 4 metres high.

      It gets its name from the spear-like shape of its sharp, pointed seeds.

      These seeds are harvested by ants and provide an important food source for birds such as finches.

      In Banggerreng time, around April each year, the ‘knock em down storms’ arrive and flatten the speargrass ahead of another dry season.

    • Kapok bush

      This small native tree has the most beautiful yellow flowers, which appear in the dry season as the plant loses its leaves. The flowers develop into green capsules, then harden and turn brown. The capsules split open to release a cotton wool-like material called kapok to which the seeds are attached.

      Aboriginal people have developed many uses for this plant known as Andjedj. We eat the flowers raw or cooked and use the roots of the young plant as a food source between September and December.

      Kapok is used for ceremonial body decorations and the bark of the tree can be used to make string and paint brushes.

    • Darwin woollybutt

      This is a common tree in Kakadu - look for dark woolly bark on the lower half of the tree’s trunk, with smooth white bark on the upper trunk and branches. It is known as Andjalen

      This tree is a calender tree - a tree that helps Aboriginal people determine the season and what work they need to do. At the beginning of the cold dry season (May-June) the woollybutt begins to produce spectacular orange flowers. This tells us that it’s time to start lighting fires, to ‘clean up the country’ and prevent intense wildfires late in the dry season.

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  • Wildlife

    Kakadu is home to an astonishing array of animals, some which are found nowhere else in the world. Our rangers do lots of work to protect these rare and fascinating species.

    • Tips for watching wildlife

      Follow these handy tips to increase your chance of encountering some of Kakadu's abundant wildlife.

      • Early morning and sunset are good times to see wildlife.
      • Use a torch at night to look for nocturnal animals. Be careful not to shine strong spotlights onto sleeping birds.
      • Look for clues to where animals have been, especially tracks, scats (droppings) and scratchings.
      • Waterholes along creeklines attract animals. Sit quietly to avoid disturbing them.
      • Animals are often heard before they are seen. Walk quietly, listen and watch for movement.
      • Use binoculars to get a closer look.
      • Look out for animals such as lizards and snakes crossing roads.
      • Do not approach, disturb or feed wildlife.
      • Saltwater crocodiles live in Kakadu waters. People have died and been severely injured by crocs in the park. Please pay attention to crocodile warning signs.
      • Snakes, pigs and buffaloes can also be dangerous. Keep well away from them.

      For information on all NT Fauna, download the app for Field Guide to NT Fauna - iPhone or Field Guide to NT Fauna - Android.

      Agile wallaby photo: Jon Connell

    • Crocodiles

      There are around 10,000 crocodiles in Kakadu - a tenth of all the crocs in the Northern Territory!

      We have two types - freshwater crocs that grow up to three metres long, and the 'salties' (estuarine crocodiles) that can grow to a whopping six metres.

      Freshwater crocs have a narrow snout and a single row of four large 'scutes' right behind their head. Salties have a broader snout and no scutes.

      The best way to safely see crocodiles is by going on a commercial boat cruise or from a high point, like Cahill's crossing viewing platform. The dry season is the best time to see them as they concentrate in shrinking water bodies.

      Remember - wherever there's water, there might be crocs! Be cautious near rivers and billabongs, and pay attention to croc warning signs.

    • Leichardt's grasshoppers

      This colourful grasshopper is an icon in Kakadu - it only lives in three places in the world, and this is one of them.

      It's named after the explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt who reported great numbers of them as he travelled through the area in 1845.

      It is a sign of the changing seasons at Kakadu - it comes out in December/January each year, with the first rains of the monsoon season.

      Aboriginal people call the grasshopper Alyurr, meaning children of the lightning man, Namarrgon, a powerful ancestral being. The Kakadu region has one of the highest incidences of lightning in the world. Namarrgon is commonly depicted in the region&395;s rock art with axes hanging from his body, which he uses to strike the clouds.

    • Quolls

      Our poor northern quolls are having a hard time. Across northern Australia, this native mammal is battling for survival against cane toads and feral predators such as cats and wild dogs. Here in Kakadu, we’re partnering with scientists to try and save our quolls.

      Some of our quolls are trained to be ‘toad smart’, so they don’t try to eat the poisonous cane toads, and then they’re released into the wild in Kakadu. The quolls teach their babies the same habits, so even their kids avoid the toads. It’s a great step in protecting this endangered species, and shows what great things science can do!

    • Flatback turtles

      Gardangarl (Field Island) lies at the mouth of the South Alligator river, where Kakadu meets the sea. It is a critical habitat for flatback turtles.

      Every year teams of Kakadu staff, traditional owners and conservation volunteers camp on Field Island over a three week period to study the turtles as they come ashore to nest. Surveying began in the 1980s and has continued annually since 1994.

      The study helps us understand the species and their movements, and to monitor the effects of threats such as climate change. Our research indicates that the population of female turtles that continuously return to Field Island remains stable. The data we collect is pivotal in monitoring flatback turtle populations in our region and around the country.

    • Comb-crested jacana

      Also known as a lily walker, lotus bird or Jesus bird, this species is unmistakable for its seeming ability to walk over water. In our local Gundjeihmi language it is called Dagarreguyengguyeng.

      It has a bright red comb on its forehead. It ranges from 20-24 cm in size, with the female larger than the male. Both sexes have enormous splayed feet which allow this bird to tread effortlessly over the tops of lily pads.

      You can see it on Kakadu’s flooded floodplains and billabongs where it walks elegantly across the lily pads looking for food.

    • Partridge pigeon

      This bird is endemic to the Top End of the Northern Territory, meaning it is found nowhere else in the world. For local Aboriginal people it is an indicator of seasons and traditional burning regimes.

      It is an icon species for birdwatchers and is listed as a vulnerable species.

      It grows to 25-28 cm and has a red and white skin around its eye. In our local Gundjeihmi language it is called Ragul.

      The partridge pigeon can often be spotted on the lawns around the Bowali Visitor Centre. When approaching partridge pigeons, they will stay still until the last minute and then noisily flush up into the air and fly off.

    • Brolga

      This large, grey crane is a graceful giant in the world of wetland birds. It ranges in size from 100-125 cm. It is famous for its energetic jumping and trumpeting dance during the mating season, and is thought to mate for life.

      You can see it at Mamukala Wetlands and on the Gungarre Walk (South Alligator region), and around Yellow Water. In the drier months (May to October), noisy flocks gather in their hundreds around springs in dry grassland.

    • Magpie goose

      This unmistakable bird has striking black and white plumage and long yellowish legs. It grows to 70-90 cm in size and is one of our favourite traditional foods. More than three million magpie geese call Kakadu home.

      Late in the dry season (August-October) large, noisy flocks of magpie geese crowd the remaining billabongs like Mamukala and Yellow Water. Sunrise and sunset brings spectacular ‘V’ formations of geese flying overhead.

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