It’s not often that we celebrate coming across a monstrous rodent, but this is exactly how scientists in Western Australia’s Kimberley region feel – largely because the massive tree-rat they stumbled across was thought to have gone extinct decades ago.
A researcher first spotted the black-footed tree rat completely by accident last year, during an evening walk while on a monitoring trip.
Being scientifically inclined, the research team didn’t celebrate the discovery straight away and instead implemented a months-long monitoring program to document evidence of the rediscovered creature.
It took months of night-vision filming, but the native rat, with its distinctive black-padded feet and black-and-white tail, has been caught on camera – and the scientists are now willing to confirm its re-emergence in the region.
It’s hard to tell just how much of a comeback has been made by this gigantic tree rat (and it really is gigantic – at nearly four times the size of its closest relative, the golden-backed tree-rat). The Kimberley region in which it was found is three times larger than England and has been described as one of the last wilderness frontiers, so determining just how many are out there isn’t easy.
The black-footed tree rat also prefers to hide in among dense shrubs in isolated forests, further complicating identification efforts.
Luckily, the officials heading up conversation and biodiversity efforts in Western Australia have plans in place to limit the threat of wildfires, which, along with a rise in feral cat numbers, is believed to have greatly contributed to the tree rat’s initial decline.
In further good news, while the Western Australia population had been decimated, the black-footed tree rat appears to have thrived in some regions of the Northern Territory.