Animal Info - Rufous Hare Wallaby

(Other Names: Canguro-liebre peludo, Mala, Ormala, Spinifex Rat, Wallaby-lièvre de l'Ouest, Wallaby-lièvre Roux, Western Hare Wallaby, Wurrup)

Lagorchestes hirsutus

Status: Vulnerable


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Weight, Habitat, Birth Rate, Diet, Behavior)
5. References


Profile

Pictures: Rufous Hare Wallaby #1 (61 Kb JPEG) (Austral. Wildl. Cons.); Rufous Hare Wallaby #2 (95 Kb JPEG) (Terrambiente)

The rufous hare wallaby, which weighs up to about 2 kg (4.4 lb), generally is solitary and nocturnal. It eats seedheads, young sedge and grass leaves, herbs and shrubs. It is found in arid and semi-arid locations, particularly spinifex hummock grasslands of the sand plain and sand dune deserts. A short burrow, up to 70 cm (2.3') long, is often dug for protection, and for shelter in hot weather. Alternatively, it may rest during the day, in a depression lightly scratched in the ground in the shade of a bush or by a tuft of grass. A female usually rears one young per year.

The rufous hare wallaby was first documented by Western observers in the early part of the 19th century. It was once common throughout most of the arid and semi-arid parts of Australia. It apparently still existed in the Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts as recently as the 1930's. During approximately 1935-1960, a major collapse in its numbers took place in the southwestern portion of Australia. By 1966, it occurred on Bernier and Dorre Islands, although rare, and it probably still survived in inland western South Australia and in the inland desert areas of Western Australia. Since then, the wild populations on the mainland apparently have become extinct. As of 1996 it was reported to exist on Bernier and Dorre Islands (these populations fluctuate significantly between years of high and low rainfall) and on the mainland in two experimental reintroduction programs.

The decline of the rufous hare wallaby probably resulted from changed fire regimes. The aborigines of Australia regularly used to set winter fires in order to clear areas for easier hunting. This produced a mosaic of vegetation in different stages of regeneration. This not only provided food for the rufous hare wallaby but also prevented the build-up of brush which set the stage for devastating fires caused by lightning during the summer. The decline of hare wallabies coincided with the removal of the aborigines from large areas and the reduction of winter fires. Other factors for its recent decline included clearing and fragmentation of habitat in southwestern western Australia, and may have included predation by introduced cats and foxes and competition with introduced rabbits.


Tidbits

*** The rufous hare wallaby's scientific name means "dancing hare."

*** These wallabies are not much larger than hares and resemble them in their movements and, to some extent, in their habits.

*** The females, on average, are larger and heavier than the males.

*** Its habit of hiding in spinifex has given rise to its name of "spinifex-rat."

*** It was once so common throughout most of the arid and semi-arid parts of Australia that it was an important food source for aborigines.


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

  • 1960's: Insufficiently Known
  • 1970's - 1980's: Rare
  • 1994: Endangered
  • 1996 - 2004: Vulnerable (Criteria: D2) (Population Trend: Decreasing) (IUCN 2004)

Countries Where the Rufous Hare Wallaby Is Currently Found:

2004: Occurs in Australia (IUCN 2004).

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]


History of Distribution:

The rufous hare wallaby was first documented by Western observers in the early part of the 19th century. It was once so common throughout most of the arid and semi-arid parts of Australia, occupying more than 25% of that country, that many early explorers commented on its abundance. The areas where it occurred included Western Australia (the wheatbelt east to the South Australia border north of Nullarbor Plain; north to Shark Bay and east through the Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts to the Northern Territory border), Northern Territory (spinifex deserts from Stuart Highway west to the Western Australia border) and South Australia (the northwest desert area). It apparently still existed in the Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts as recently as the 1930's.

During approximately 1935-1960, a major collapse in its numbers took place in the southwestern portion of Australia. By 1966, it occurred on Bernier and Dorre Islands, although rare, and it probably still survived in inland western South Australia and in the inland desert areas of Western Australia. By 1987, it occurred only in two populations in the Tanami Desert, Northern Territory and Dorre and Bernier Islands in Shark Bay, Western Australia. In the early 1990's it was reported that "satisfactory" numbers existed on Bernier and Dorre Islands, with only one small mainland population remaining in the Tanami Desert, comprising approximately 30 individuals. Unfortunately, the mainland population was apparently wiped out by fire. As of 1996 it was reported to exist on Bernier and Dorre Islands (these populations fluctuate significantly between years of high and low rainfall) and on the mainland in two experimental reintroduction programs.

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

The aborigines of Australia avidly hunted hare wallabies for food, but this may have benefited the animals. The aborigines regularly set winter fires in order to clear areas for easier hunting. This produced a mosaic of vegetation in different stages of regeneration. This not only provided food for the rufous hare wallaby but also prevented the build-up of brush which set the stage for devastating fires caused by lightning during the summer. The decline of hare wallabies coincided with the removal of the aborigines from large areas and the reduction of winter fires. The two mainland colonies of the rufous hare wallaby discovered in the Tanami Desert in the 1970's were in localities where regular winter burning was still practiced. (Bolton & Latz 1978) Other factors for its recent decline included clearing and fragmentation of habitat in southwestern western Australia, and may have included predation by introduced cats and foxes and competition with introduced rabbits.


Data on Biology and Ecology

Weight:

The rufous hare wallaby weighs 0.78 - 1.96 kg (1.7 - 4.3 lb).

Habitat:

Arid and semi-arid parts of Australia, particularly spinifex hummock grasslands of the sand plain and sand dune deserts. Studies have shown that the Western hare wallaby is fairly mobile but is largely absent from large areas of old spinifex, preferring areas with a mosaic of unburnt areas and areas that are regenerating after fires. Island populations occur in hummock grasslands and sand plain heath.

The rufous hare wallaby is one of the species that live in the Southwest Australia Biodiversity Hotspot (Cons. Intl.).

Birth Rate:

A female usually rears 1 young per year.

Diet:

The rufous hare wallaby appears to favor recently burned vegetation that is regenerating, traveling up to 150 m (490') into recently burnt areas to feed from its colony in an unburnt area. Studies of a small population in the Tanami Desert showed that it ate seedheads and young sedge and grass leaves. (Bolton & Latz 1978) Herbs and shrubs are also eaten. It has a stomach that is well adapted to a high plant-fiber diet.

Behavior:

A short burrow, up to 70 cm (2.3') long, is often dug for protection, and for shelter in hot weather. Alternatively, it may rest during the day, hidden under a hummock of spinifex.


References

Austral. Wildl. Cons., Bolton & Latz 1978, Burbidge & McKenzie 1989, Burton & Pearson 1987, Cons. Intl., Earth Sanctuaries, Flannery 1990, IUCN 1966, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, Kennedy 1992, Maxwell et al. 1996, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Terrambiente


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Last modified: June 3, 2006;

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