Gilbert’s potoroo was only rediscovered in 1994. (Credit: Bill Hatcher)
She’s known simply as 216. But she’s unquestionably special, and as the small, black bag is peeled back to reveal her long snout and large dark eyes she’s greeted with a hushed ripple of reverential “oohs” and “aahs”.
This is the 216th Gilbert’s potoroo to be counted since the species was rediscovered in 1994 after a century on our list of extinct mammals.
One of just 100 that remain, this is arguably the world’s rarest marsupial: a rabbit-sized, wallaby-like, ball of soft fur that lives almost exclusively on native truffles.
We’re in a bush enclosure near Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve, on the south coast of Western Australia.
And the small audience being given this rare viewing includes volunteers who’ve been labouring to maintain the 8.2km predator-proof fence surrounding a new 380ha reserve, where 216 will eventually be released.
“It’s such a privilege,” whispers Jonica Foss, of Perth, here to pull plants from around the fence to stop cats clambering over. “To think there are so few left and we’ve just seen one.”
The man who’s headed the recovery program since it began in 1999 is Dr Tony Friend, a scientist with Western Australia’s Department of Environment and Conservation. When we last spoke to him about the potoroo’s plight (AG 88) there was little good news.
The only natural population, at Two Peoples Bay, had been secured but was at maximum capacity of about 30.
The species still hung on a knife edge with the real threat that one fire could wipe it out for good.