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Mission success for the Central Rock-rat

Special Interest Programme / Partner story

Photo credit: Brad Leue/AWC 

A small, stout, fluffy desert rat, with a thick, bushy tail slightly longer than its body, probably enjoys more helicopter rides than your average person. But this adorable native mammal, the Central Rock-rat, considered one of Australia’s most endangered mammals, is on an urgent mission to save its own species. (Thankfully, it has tonnes of human help.)  

“It’s a race against time,” says Danae Moore, an ecologist with the independent not-for-profit Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). In 2022, AWC helped to carefully plan for the translocation of 74 Central Rock-rats by helicopter from a captive breeding facility in Alice Springs to Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary is owned by AWC and located in the Tanami Desert, nearly 570 km northwest of Alice Springs. Here, the Central Rock-rats are now thriving within a fenced area free from two of their most significant predators, feral cats and foxes, which have already contributed to the extinction of many other small native mammals. 

According to the AWC team working in partnership with ecologists, zookeepers, and rangers, and the Alice Springs Desert Park and the Northern Territory government, the translocation was a resounding success. A huge part of AWC’s work moving forward will be to continually monitor and study the translocated Central Rock-rat population, making sure that they thrive, breed, and establish a self-sustaining population.  

Re-introducing the Central Rock-rat to the Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary and establishing a secure population is vital to its ongoing existence.  

Thought to be extinct multiple times since the 1960s, the Central Rock-rat was at a high risk of extinction prior to the intervention. Amidst the accelerating threats of climate change, fires, and predatory cats, Danae said in August 2022 that “establishing this new, protected population is vital to its future existence and restoring global biodiversity.” 

“With an increasing spotlight on climate change, we’re very proud to be taking measurable, direct action to ensure the restoration of some of Central Australia’s most threatened species,” says Danae.  

“Watching the helicopter come over the lip of the range was an amazing experience. Knowing that we’ve got those really precious Central Rock-rats on board was just a fantastic thing to see.” 

Congratulations to AWC as they continue their great work to save the Central Rock-rat and other Australian animal species and the habitats in which they live. You can find out more by watching the video below: 

This grant falls under Oak Foundation’s Special Interest Programme, which covers a wide range of fields, including environment, health, humanitarian relief, education, and the arts. You can find out more about the programme and its strategy by clicking here. Australian Wildlife Conservancy is a global leader in conservation, providing hope to Australian wildlife with a science-informed land management partnership approach that delivers high impact. Its work consists of practical, evidence-based conservation programmes, and one of the key objectives of the grant is to secure significant increases in at least 12 threatened species. You can learn more in this infographic here and by visiting its website here