The world’s rarest marsupial and one of endangered species, Gilbert’s Potoroo, has survived after an unintentional intervention by the Duke of Edinburgh 60 years ago, saving it from extinction.
The nocturnal, fungi-loving rat-kangaroo known as the Gilbert’s potoroo is named after English naturalist John Gilbert, who first observed them in Australia in 1838. However, by the 1870s, the macropod appeared to have vanished, and its demise was attributed to foreign predators and a long history of intensive Aboriginal hunting.
Only in 1994 was a small settlement at Two Peoples Bay, 22 miles east of the city of Albany in Western Australia, discovered.
Prince Philip, who had pushed for Two Peoples Bay’s protection in 1962, was responsible for the region’s preservation and ability to host the Gilbert’s potoroo. The Duke, on the other hand, wouldn’t have known about the existence of the secretive small creatures and would have acted to protect a completely other threatened species. Nevertheless, the Gilbert’s potoroo population has surpassed 100, and local scientists are optimistic about the long-term survival of the endangered marsupial.
During a visit to Perth in 1962, Prince Philip is said to have raised eyebrows among government officials when he urged Western Australian authorities to stop the clearing of forest near Two Peoples Bay that had been designated for house complexes.
According to Tony Friend, a scientist with the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation, “If that had happened, there would have been cats and dogs and fire, and it wouldn’t have been maintained.”
Like the Gilbert’s potoroo, which was long believed to be extinct until a small colony was discovered to be living in Two Peoples Bay the year before the royal’s intervention, the Duke had intended to conserve the rare “noisy scrubbird.” The development plans were fortunately abandoned by Western Australia’s government, who later designated Two Peoples Bay a nature reserve in 1967.
Before Elizabeth Sinclair, an evolutionary biologist, accidentally discovered a Gilbert’s potoroo in the nature reserve while counting the number of the wallaby-like species known as “quokka” in the area, it would be close to three decades. She admitted to the Times that at first, she didn’t entirely trust what she had discovered.
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I thought, “no, for sure not.” According to her, this Western Australian wildlife reserve has received the most investigation. They couldn’t have been sitting here unnoticed for 120 years, you know! But the very next day following the initial finding, two more of the elusive marsupials were caught in her snares, and the seemingly miraculous discovery was confirmed.
According to Jackie Courtenay of the Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group, “Prince Philip, in aiding to safeguard Two Peoples Bay, enabled Gilbert’s Potoroo to exist undiscovered – and presumed extinct – until its rediscovery in 1994.”
Dr. Courtney believes that other areas can be discovered where Gilbert’s potoroos can dwell without the fear of foxes and pythons while still having access to the truffle-like fungi that serve as their main source of food.
The conservation biologist continued, “It really is a gorgeous animal.” And if that animal were to cease to exist in the world, it would be “such a loss” only for that reason.