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Rat-kangaroo reappears after being ‘extinct’ for 120 years

Gilbert's potoroo

Gilbert’s potoroo vanished in the 1870s. It was believed to have become extinct about 120 years ago. It was (now is) one of Australia’s precious marsupial native species. It looks like a cute rat crossed with a kangaroo. Dr. Jackie Courtenay, a conservation biologist with the Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group, said: “It really is a beautiful animal.”

Gilbert's potoroo

Gilbert’s potoroo. Photo in public domain.

I agree with her. Very cute. It was thought that it had become extinct as a victim of introduced predators and hunting i.e. human activity. I feel I need to stress that point because Australians like to pass the buck onto feral cats 😉.

But there’s good news thanks to Prince Philip who intervened on his visit to Perth in 1962 in urging the authorities there to protect the habitat of an Australian scrub bird. Unknown to him, that same habitat contained a population of Gilbert’s potoroos. The Western Australian government agreed with Prince Philip and they declared Two Peoples Bay, 260 miles south of Perth, a sanctuary.

Thirty years later they discovered Gilbert’s potoroo in this bushland (1994). The first one was caught by Dr. Elizabeth Sinclair, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia. She was completing her PhD. She could hardly believe what she saw. She believed that it had been extinct for 120 years. Her discovery was confirmed in a few days.

The survival of the species, and it is believed that there are about a hundred (perhaps around 70) in the wild in existence, can also be put down to an appropriately named guy called Tony Friend. He is a government research scientist. He had moved an “insurance” population of Gilbert’s potoroos from this sanctuary to an island off the south coast.

That move was fortuitous because calamity struck in the broiling summer of 2015 when lightning ignited bushfires that roared through 90% of its habitat.

Gilbert’s potoroo feeds off a truffle-like fungi which makes up most of his diet.

Conservationists are now more optimistic about preserving them for the future. We should pay tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh for his unwitting intervention 60 years ago.

Some more about Gilbert’s potoroo

It is, of course, one of Australia’s most endangered marsupials and one of the world’s rarest critically endangered animals. It is nocturnal. It lives in small groups. It has long hind feet and it uses its front feet to dig for food. It’s fur colour ranges between brown and grey. Its long thin snout curved downwards helps it to smell it surroundings and detect the truffle-like fungi that it loves. They weigh between 708 g and 1205 g.

Gilbert's potoroo distribution

Gilbert’s potoroo distribution. Map: Wikipedia (modified).

Their only population is currently Two Peoples Bay nature reserve in Western Australia. Their scientific name is Potorous gilbertii. Its name and scientific name were both created in recognition of John Gilbert who collected a specimen as a field worker while collecting birds and mammals for John Gould at the new colonies in south-west Australia in the 1840s, as I understand it.