News, Culture & Society

Nature: World’s rarest marsupial back from the brink of extinction – thanks to the Duke of Edinburgh

Thanks to an unwitting intervention by the Duke of Edinburgh 60 years ago, the world’s rarest marsupial has come back from the very brink of extinction. 

Gilbert’s potoroo — a nocturnal, fungi-loving rat–kangaroo — is named for English naturalist John Gilbert, who first documented them on a visit to Australia in 1838.

By the 1870s, however, the macropod had seemingly gone extinct, a fate credited to invasive predators and a history of extensive hunting by the Aboriginal people.

However, a small population remained undetected at Two Peoples Bay, 22 miles east of the Western Australian city of Albany — to only be discovered in 1994.

The fact the area remained unspoiled and able to support the Gilbert’s potoroo was thanks to Prince Philip, who had lobbied for Two Peoples Bay’s protection in 1962.

The Duke, however, would have been unaware of the presence of the elusive little critters — and had intervened on behalf of an entirely different threatened species.

Regardless, the population of Gilbert’s potoroo has now exceeded 100, with local experts expressing optimism over the rare marsupial’s chances of long-term survival.

Gilbert’s potoroo (pictured) — a nocturnal, truffle-loving rat–kangaroo — is named for English naturalist John Gilbert, who first documented them on a visit to Australia in 1838. By the 1870s, however, the macropod had seemingly gone extinct, a fate credited to invasive predators and a history of extensive hunting by the Aboriginal people

A small population of Gilbert's potoroo remained undetected at Two Peoples Bay, 22 miles east of the Western Australian city of Albany ¿ to only be found in 1994. The fact the area remained unspoiled and able to support the Gilbert's potoroo was thanks to the Duke of Edinburgh, who lobbied for Two Peoples Bay's protection in 1962. Pictured: Prince Philip in 2006

A small population of Gilbert’s potoroo remained undetected at Two Peoples Bay, 22 miles east of the Western Australian city of Albany — to only be found in 1994. The fact the area remained unspoiled and able to support the Gilbert’s potoroo was thanks to the Duke of Edinburgh, who lobbied for Two Peoples Bay’s protection in 1962. Pictured: Prince Philip in 2006

POTOROO’S PERIL 

Nearly having their habitat destroyed to make way for new housing is far from the only calamity that has threatened the Gilbert’s potoroo over recent decades.

In the summer of 2015, for example, lightning-induced bushfires ravaged some 90 per cent of the marsupial’s habitat around Two Peoples Bay — razing some 3,000 acres in total.

Fortunately, the population was bolstered after this disaster by a transplant from a ‘backup’ colony of potoroo wisely established on a nearby island by Dr Friend. 

And in the years since, the recovering population has been threatened by decreasing rainfall in the region as a result of climate change.

Prince Philip reportedly ruffled official feathers in 1962, amid a visit to Perth, when he lobbied Western Australian authorities against the destruction of bushland around Two Peoples Bay which had originally been earmarked for housing developments.

‘If that had happened, there would have been cats and dogs and fire and it wouldn’t have been preserved,’ biologist Tony Friend of the Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation told the Times.

The Duke had hoped to save the elusive ‘noisy scrubbird’ — a species which, much like the Gilbert’s potoroo, had been long thought extinct until a small population was found to be inhabiting Two Peoples Bay the year prior to royal’s intervention.

Fortunately, Western Australia’s authorities capitulated, calling off the construction plans and eventually designating Two Peoples Bay a nature reserve in 1967. 

It would be nearly three decades before evolutionary biologist Elizabeth Sinclair stumbled across  a Gilbert’s potoroo in the nature reserve by accident while surveying the numbers in the area of a wallaby-like species called ‘quokka’.

At first, she explained to the Times, she didn’t quite believe what she had found. 

‘I was going, “nah, surely not”. This is the most researched nature reserve in Western Australia,’ she said.

‘Surely they hadn’t been sitting here under someone’s nose for, you know, 120 years!’

However, her snares captured two more of the elusive marsupials the very next day after the first discovery — and the seemingly miraculous find was confirmed.

The Duke was unaware of the presence of the elusive little marsupials ¿ and had intervened on behalf of an entirely different threatened species, the noisy scrubbird (pictured)

The Duke was unaware of the presence of the elusive little marsupials — and had intervened on behalf of an entirely different threatened species, the noisy scrubbird (pictured) 

The population of Gilbert's potoroo (depicted) has now exceeded 100, with local experts expressing optimism over the rare marsupial's chances of long-term survival

The population of Gilbert’s potoroo (depicted) has now exceeded 100, with local experts expressing optimism over the rare marsupial’s chances of long-term survival

‘Prince Philip, in helping to save Two Peoples Bay, enabled Gilbert’s Potoroo to survive undetected — and thought extinct — until its rediscovery in 1994,’ Jackie Courtenay of the Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group told the Times.

Dr Courtney hopes that more spaces can be found in which Gilbert’s potoroo can live free from the threat of predators like foxes and pythons — but with enough of the truffle-like fungi that make up their primary food source.

‘It really is a beautiful animal,’ the conservation biologist added.

‘And it would be, for that reason alone, just such a loss if that animal can no longer be in the world.’

Prince Philip reportedly ruffled official feathers in 1962, amid a visit to Perth, when he lobbied Western Australian authorities against the destruction of bushland around Two Peoples Bay which had originally been earmarked for housing developments. Fortunately, the capitulated, calling off the construction plans and designating Two Peoples Bay a nature reserve in 1967

Prince Philip reportedly ruffled official feathers in 1962, amid a visit to Perth, when he lobbied Western Australian authorities against the destruction of bushland around Two Peoples Bay which had originally been earmarked for housing developments. Fortunately, the capitulated, calling off the construction plans and designating Two Peoples Bay a nature reserve in 1967

THE IUCN RED LIST

Species on the endangered red list are animals of the highest conservation priority that need ‘urgent action’ to save.

An Amber list is reserved for the next most critical group, followed by a green list.

Red list criteria:

  • Globally threatened
  • Historical population decline in UK during 1800–1995
  • Severe (at least 50 per cent) decline in UK breeding population over last 25 years
  • Severe (at least 50 per cent) contraction of UK breeding range over last 25 years  

In recent years, in the UK, several more species have been added to the list. 

These included:  

  • Atlantic puffin
  • Nightingale 
  • Long-tailed duck 
  • Turtle dove

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk