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.
- Wallaby-lièvre De L'Ouest, Wallaby-lièvre Roux.
- Canguro-liebre Peludo.
- 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)
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).
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).
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).
Rufous hare wallaby status
Classified as Vulnerable (VU – D2) on the IUCN Red List 2002 (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
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).
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).
Find out more
For detailed information on the recovery plan for this species, see:
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- Embryonic stage
- In an early stage of development.
- 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.
- 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.
- Active at night.