The BLACK-FOOTED TREE-RAT – listed as “Endangered” Posted on 16 Jun 00:00
Written by: Tzar the Paddington Poodle.
Featured in my book The Adventures of Tzar the Paddington Poodle, Braham Bull Encounter Djinta and Moomba are two Black-Footed Tree-Rats that reside in the hollows of the large eucalyptus that surround the Heart Break hotel in the Top End, or the Northern Territory of Australia. The book is scheduled for release early 2017.
Having spent over 5 months in the Top End, it was inevitable that we would come across these interesting creatures. Our first encounter with these cute rats was when we camped out at the famous Heartbreak hotel in Cape Crawford. Cape Crawford is approximately 867.4 kilometres south east of Darwin and 160 kilometres south-west of Borroloola on the west coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria and is the launching pad for exploring enthusiasts of the “Lost City” a geological wonderland of sandstone skyscrapers located in the Limmen National Park.
We were minding our own business kicking back under the shade of a large banyan tree, when I caught a glimpse of a white tuft of hair as it disappeared into the hollow of a tree. I really wanted to see it again, so I sat there for the next two hours waiting for it to re-appear. Just as I was about to give up thinking that I had being seeing things, it popped its head out of the safety of its hollow and scampered down the trunk of tree and stopped on one of the branches. It just sat there watching us with its long white tipped black tail hanging down. Fascinated, Ziggy and I watched as it proceeded to preen itself rubbing its paws over its face. Over the next few months we spotted them from time to time running up and down the trunk of large eucalyptus trees.
Now I know you may not be interested in these little beasts because they’re rodents, but trust me, they are cute and adorable, in fact they remind me of squirrels. Most importantly, they play a significant part in the balance of Australia’s ecology.
Like all endangered animals, it breaks my heart to tell you that the Black-Footed Tree-Rat is on the threatened list. I am deeply saddened to think that our children’s children may not have the opportunity to experience these unique and wonderful indigenous creatures.
Conservation Status of the Black-Footed Tree-Rat
- The black-footed tree-rat is one of a suite of Top End mammals showing evidence of sharp decline within the past ten years (Woinarski et al Conservation status Australia: Endangered Northern Territory: Vulnerable BLACK-FOOTED TREE-RAT Mesembriomys gouldii 2 2010). Recent monitoring in Kakadu and Gunak Gurig Barlu National Parks has not recorded any tree-rats in areas where they were previously in good numbers.
- This species qualifies as Vulnerable in the NT (under criterion A2ab), based on: · population reduction of >30 – 50% per cent over the last ten years where the cause of reduction may not have ceased.
- The main driver of the decline of this species is not easily defined. Studies have shown that it is disadvantaged by frequent fire, probably because of its requirement for tree hollows, and its habitat preference for a shrubby understory (Friend 1987).
- In addition to the requirement for a diverse shrubby understory (mediated by infrequent fire regimes), the species also requires large trees, and is notably disadvantaged by forest fragmentation (Rankmore 2006).
- Predation by feral cats may also be having an impact on this species although the degree to which this occurs is not known.
- There is an estimated 30,000 surviving.
- Australian Wildlife Conservancy protect the habitat of the Black-Footed Tree-Rat on it sanctuaries in northern Australia.
Here are a few facts about these attractive rodents:
- Black-Footed Tree-Rats are endemic to the northern regions of Australia. These cute rats are one of Australia’s largest rodents, weighing up to 830g.
- They are the Australian equivalent of a squirrel.
- They have with long shaggy medium grey to black fur on top, pale underside, large black ears and a distinctive long hairy tail with a brush of white hair that looks like it has been dipped in white paint. Their hind feet are black with strong claws.
- Found in the Top End of the Northern Territory (NT) in tropical woodlands and open forests in coastal areas. They can also be found in the Kimberley in Western Australia, and the east and west coastal areas of Cape York Peninsula south to Townsville and inland to the Lynd Junction, where it is far less common.
- They have been spotted in the following conservation reserves:
- Kakadu National Park, Litchfield National Park, Gunak Gurig Barlu National Park, Charles Darwin National Park, Berry Springs Nature Park, Holmes Jungle Nature Park and Manton Dam Recreation Area.
- Hard fruits and seeds are a major component of their diet, supplemented by grass and invertebrates and other seasonal resources such as nectar rich flowers.
- Species: M. gouldii
- Genus: Mesembriomys
- Family: Muridea
- Order: Rodentia
- Class: Mammalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Kingdom: Animalia