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Betting on the bettongBetting on the bettong

The bettong, better known as the ‘rat kangaroo’, once proliferated in eastern Australia. A program in northern NSW is helping to save the endangered rufous bettong, a macropod that plays an important part in forest ecosystems.

Story Kirsty McKenzie Photos Ken Brass

What’s in a name? A lot, according to zoologist Dr Karl Vernes. For example, he wonders whether the species known as ‘rat kangaroos’ were known by their proper name of bettongs, public concern for their vulnerability would be higher and the surviving population larger.

Betting on the bettongDr Vernes, a lecturer in vertebrate ecology in the Department of Ecosystem Management at the University of New England (UNE) at Armidale, NSW, has devoted much of his career to the conservation and management of threatened species – especially bettongs. He thinks the rat kangaroo moniker has somewhat tarnished bettongs’ image. In fact, bettongs – one of the smaller species of macropods consisting of more than 50 kinds of kangaroos, potaroos and wallabies – are among the cutest yet most vulnerable members of the family.

Karl Vernes’ current interest is in a small rufous bettong (Aepyprymnus rufescens) colony that lives in the New England region of northern NSW. Rufous bettongs are about the size of a large rabbit, have short muzzles, small, rounded ears and fur that is reddish-brown (rufous). They live alone in small nests they build for themselves from leaves, grass and bark. Story end

Full story OUTBACK Issue 35 June/July 2004

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