Numbers of Australia’s rarest marsupial have jumped higher than in living memory and you can help conservation efforts further by enjoying a tipple.

Story By Ken Eastwood

This spring, there’s more than one reason to drink to the health of Australia’s rarest marsupial. Although there are just 60 left in existence, the critically endangered Gilbert’s potoroo appears to be doing better than it has in living memory, with the population almost doubling in the past few years. A new population has been established off the West Australian coast, and a third population is being started. And, in an inventive and highly successful earner for potoroo conservation efforts, Jingalla wines are being specifically labelled and sold to raise funds for the creature. So toast away!
“We are very encouraged,” says Val Hack, treasurer of the Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group, a band of 70 dedicated souls who educate West Australians and others about the plight of the soft-furred, pointy-nosed creature, and support scientific and conservation work. They often use a human-sized potoroo costume to spread the word at farmers’ markets. “When we first started out, everyone would say, ‘What is it?’ but now about 60 percent of people have heard about the potoroo,” she says.
Gilbert’s potoroo is about the size of a rabbit and looks a bit like a cross between a wallaby and a long-tailed bandicoot. It was presumed extinct when it hadn’t been seen for more than 100 years after 1879. Although fossil records show it has been around for more than 12,000 years, researchers believe that changed fire regimes, land clearing and the introduction of cats and foxes had brought about the animal’s demise. But in 1994, a PhD student rediscovered the creature in Two People’s Bay Nature Reserve, 35 kilometres east of Albany. Despite extensive searches on Western Australia’s south coast, it wasn’t found elsewhere, and the only population in the dense scrub of melaleuca and sedges on Mt Gardner at Two People’s Bay hovered below 40 individuals for the next 10 years.

This story excerpt is from Issue #67

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2009