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Gilbert's Potoroo
Gilbert's Potoroo was thought to be extinct and then rediscovered in 1994. (Image: © Jiri Lochman/ Lochman Transparencies)
Two Peoples Bay Reserve
Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve, the last stronghold of Gilbert's Potoroo.
 
Geographic distribution of the Gilbert's Potoroo represented by coverage of 1:250,000 map sheets of Australia (see www.ga.gov.au for Australian maps).
 
 
 
 
 
 

General information

Kangaroos are marsupials and belong to the Family Macropodidae (i.e. big feet) that is grouped with the Potoroidae (potoroos, bettongs, rat-kangaroos) and Hypsiprymnodontidae (musky rat-kangaroo) in the Super-Family, Macropodoidea. This comprises around 50 species in Australia and a dozen or more in New Guinea.  Some of the smaller species, such as Yellow-footed Rock-Wallabies, Burrowing Bettongs, accompanied Pig-footed and Golden Bandicoots, Bilbies and possibly Hairy-nosed Wombats into extinction with the advent of pastoralism. However, the largest species remain in much of their original range with the grey kangaroos expanding inland as grazing habitat increased and coastal habitat was lost in clearance for agriculture. The defining feature of the kangaroo family is that they are the largest vertebrates to hop (both currently and from what we know from palaeontology).

 

The Bettongs, Potoroos and Musky Rat-Kangaroo are collectively known as the Rat-kangaroos. In fact, they form two families, the Potoroidae, which includes all the potoroos and bettongs, and, the Hypsiprimnodontidae, whose sole living representative is the Musky Rat-kangaroo. They are observationally distinguished from the kangaroos and wallabies by their diminutive body size but the largest species, the Rufous Bettong, eclipses the smallest Rock-wallabies, the Monjon and Narbelek. In general, they retain more 'primitive' ancestral characteristics with a partly prehensile tail to entrap grasses and sticks for nesting and a simpler stomach (and consequently richer diet). The forelimbs and hindlimbs are more similar in size than the gross differences in the kangaroos and wallabies, and so bounding as well as hopping is a mode of progress. Perhaps possum-kangaroo is more accurate but the first European observers were more familiar with rats than possums.

 

The Potoroos are in the critical weight range (<5.5 kg) that have suffered range contraction and extinction following the introduction of European farming practices and invasive species like foxes and cats. One species, the Broad-faced Potoroo (Potorous platyops) from the southern coasts of Western and South Australia quickly became extinct and was last collected from the wild in 1875. Gilbert's Potoroo also from Western Australia was thought to have suffered the same fate but was rediscovered in 1994. Equally surprising was the late discovery of a new species, the Long-footed Potoroo, in Victoria in 1967. The only widespread species, first described to Europeans from Botany Bay in 1789, is the Long-nosed Potoroo which is found in Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

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Species

Gilbert's Potoroo

Potorous gilbertii ('Gilbert's potoroo')

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Best place to see

Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve, Western Australia

Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve is 35 km from Albany on the south coast of Western Australia. The Reserve supports day visitors with car parking, toilets and barbecues. There is a one-hour heritage walk along the beach and around the headland. The Reserve is remarkable for protecting a number of threatened species including the Noisy Scrub-bird (Atrichornis clamosus) and the most easterly population of the Quokka. Accommodation can be found in nearby Albany.

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Identification

Males to 1.2 kg (average 1.0 kg) and females to 1.2 kg (average 0.9 kg). Gilbert’s Potoroo was once considered a sub-species of the Long-nosed Potoroo and is similar in appearance. However, the body size is smaller; the fur is more rufous and the naked skin on the nose does not extend as far from the nares. The fur on the cheeks is very long and dense giving a less slender appearance to the head.

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Habitat

To be added

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Foraging behaviour

 

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Reproductive behaviour

 

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Social organisation

 

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Further readings

Claridge AW, Seebeck JH, Rose R (2007) 'Bettongs, Potoroos and the Musky Rat-kangaroo.' (CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne)

Sinclair AE, Danks A, Wayne AF (1996) Rediscovery of Gilbert's potoroo, Potorous tridactylus, in Western Australia. Australian Mammalogy 19, 69-72.

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