Rufous hare wallaby (Lagorchestes hirsutus)

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Rufous hare wallaby
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Rufous hare wallaby fact file

Rufous hare wallaby description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderDiprotodontia
FamilyMacropodidae
GenusLagorchestes (1)

The rufous hare wallaby's genus name, Lagorchestes, means ‘dancing hare’ and to some extent these wallabies do resemble hares in their size, appearance, movement and habits (4). However, like all wallabies, they have much larger hind legs than hares, and considerably smaller forelimbs, a long thin tail and a narrower hunched upper body (5). This marsupial does move around on all fours, but if it needs to move quickly it raises itself onto its muscular back legs and hops. Its thick fur is brown to grey in colour, with darker paws, feet and tail, and a lighter front. The rufous wallaby has large beady black eyes, fairly large pointed ears and a small naked nose with short whiskers (4).

Also known as
Mala wallaby, spinifex rat., western hare wallaby.
French
Wallaby-lièvre De L'Ouest, Wallaby-lièvre Roux.
Spanish
Canguro-liebre Peludo.
Size
Female weight: 0.78 – 1.9 kg (2)
Male weight: 1.24 - 1.8 kg (2)
Female head/body length: 36 - 39 cm (2)
Female tail length: 24 - 30.5 cm (2)
Male head/body length: 31 - 36 cm (2)
Male tail length: 26 - 28 cm (2)
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Rufous hare wallaby biology

The rufous hare wallaby is a solitary and nocturnal animal (5). It has a stomach that is well adapted to a high plant-fibre diet and so is able to feed on seedheads, young sedges, grass leaves, herbs and shrubs, favouring vegetation that is regenerating after a fire (4).

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Rufous hare wallaby range

In the 19th Century this species occured across 25% of Australia, but by 1990 there was only one small mainland area where they could be found, and this population comprised of only 30 individuals (5). Sadly, this whole population was wiped out by a bush fire in the 1990s. At present, this species is only found on Bernier Island and Dorre Island off the coast of western Australia, and on the mainland in two experimental reintroduction sites (5).

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Rufous hare wallaby habitat

This shy marsupial inhabits arid and semi-arid environments, particularly grasslands of the sand plain and sand dune deserts (2). Studies have shown that the rufous hare wallaby is fairly mobile, but is largely absent from large areas of old spinifex grassland, preferring mosaics of un-burnt areas and habitats that are regenerating after fires. The island populations occur in hummock grasslands and sand plain heath (4).

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Rufous hare wallaby status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU – D2) on the IUCN Red List 2002 (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Rufous hare wallaby threats

The tale behind the decline of the rufous hare wallaby is an interesting one as it dates back to the colonisation of Australia (2). The aborigine people of Australia used to set fire to the scrubland every year in order to clear areas for hunting in the winter months (4). This produced a patchwork of vegetation in different stages of regeneration which not only provided food for the rufous hare wallaby but also prevented the build-up of brush, a grass that fuels summer bush fires (4). After the aborigines were removed from these areas by the British, the wallabies’ numbers began to drop. Without winter fires there were fewer regenerating plants and less food available long-term (2). Instead, uncontrolled summer fires raged, causing widespread damage and killing large numbers of animals, including rufous hare wallabies (4). This caused severely reduced populations which have never been able to recover. More recently, these animals have suffered from other threats including the clearing and fragmentation of habitat in southwestern Australia, predation by introduced cats and foxes as well as competition from introduced rabbits (4).

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Rufous hare wallaby conservation

Now classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of the Convention for International Trade of Endangered species (CITES) (3), conservation measures are being taken to protect the remaining wild populations and to breed more in captivity. In Australia the Mala Recovery Plan has been developed to maintain existing captive populations and secure island populations (6). It also aims to establish 3 new self-sustaining populations on the mainland in predator-free or predator-controlled sites within 5 years, and increase public awareness of the rufous hare wallaby by involving community groups (6). It is hoped that these measures will be successful in stabilising and re-building the rufous hare wallaby numbers (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

 For detailed information on the recovery plan for this species, see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Embryonic stage
In an early stage of development.
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Marsupial
A diverse group of mammals characterised by their reproduction. The embryo is born 11-35 days after conception. The tiny newborn crawls into the marsupium (pouch) and attaches to a teat where it stays for a variable amount of time. They also differ from placental mammals in their dentition.
Nocturnal
Active at night.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (October 2003)
    http://www.redlist.org
  2. Strahan, R. (1983) Complete book of Australian Mammals. Cornstalk Publishing, Australia.
  3. CITES (October 2003)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Animal Info (October 2003)
    http://www.animalinfo.org/
  5. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Langford, D. (1999) The Mala (Lagorchestes hirsutus) Recovery Plan Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, Australian Government, Department of the Environment and Heritage
    http://www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/recovery/mala/index.html
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Image credit

Rufous hare wallaby  
Rufous hare wallaby

© Judy Dunlop/DEC

Judy Dunlop
Department of Environment and Conservation
C/O Science Division, Department of Environment and Conservation, Wildlife Place
Woodvale
Western Australia 6026
Tel: 0447 929 036
judy.dunlop@gmail.com
http://www.flickr.com/photos/judydunlop/

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