A native rat vulnerable to extinction and known for its chubby cheeks has been found at Victoria’s Wilsons Promontory for the first time in three decades.
- The broad-toothed rat has not been seen on the promontory for 32 years
- Scientists manage to track one of the chubby-cheeked rodents, trap it and release it back into the wild
- The discovery suggests efforts to keep invasive species out of the area are working
The broad-toothed rat, or Tooarrana, is a tiny rodent historically found throughout south-eastern Australia.
The catastrophic Black Summer bushfires tore through much of its habitat in the Victorian high country, but studies showed its population was significantly declining in the decades before that.
The tiny rat has been vulnerable to predation by cats and foxes, habitat loss from an overabundance of grass-grazing animals, bushfires and climate change.
It had not been seen at Wilsons Prom for 32 years.
A team of researchers, led by Zoos Victoria biologist Phoebe Burns and Parks Victoria ecologist Brooke Love, managed to track and trap one of the rats at the promontory before releasing it back into the wild.
“It is a very exciting time,” Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said.
“And it actually really does underscore the importance of us maintaining Wilsons Prom as a safe haven for a lot of our endangered species.”
The rodent is known for having chubby cheeks, a flat face and short tail.
It is also known for its bright-green droppings, which helped the researchers find the rat during surveys of the promontory, south-east of Melbourne.
“We thought, of course, that they had no longer existed and certainly, it hasn’t been spotted [at Wilsons Prom] in more than three decades,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“But some really clever scientific work that’s been done by our dedicated scientists in the field… discovered one of them still alive and thriving.”
The rat feeds on grasses and sedges in cool, wet habitats.
Native rats are essential to many ecosystems and can be indicators of environmental change.
The rat found by researchers is an indication that work to keep invasive species away from the Prom could be beginning to be successful.
The state government said the discovery underscored the importance of a plan to turn 50,000 hectares of Wilsons Prom into a sanctuary.
“This is great news for the Prom Sanctuary project,” Parks Victoria biodiversity science manager Mark Antos said in a statement.
“It provides a further reason to control introduced predators and grazing animals to help protect this unique species and give it the best chance of survival.”