A new report, Rakali Community Survey 2014-2015, launched today at the Canning River Eco Education Centre in Perth, has shed light on one of the most elusive of creatures, the rakali, or Australian water rat.
The community survey, carried out between Dec 2014 and March 2015, asked Western Australians to report recent and past sightings of rakali to obtain more information about the range of the species in Western Australia.
The survey was made possible by a citizen science project organised jointly by WWF-Australia and the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife, to gather information on the rakali in WA.
Speaking at the report’s launch, co-author and WWF spokesperson Dr Sabrina Trocini, said: “Rakali are mysterious and shy creatures, mostly nocturnal, and they are often hard to see, dwelling in rivers, lakes and sheltered ocean beaches.”
“This is why getting members of the general public involved and having lots of extra pairs of eyes was so valuable to enable us to discover more about the species.”
The survey found that the rakali’s range has contracted towards the south-west and there are areas of localised decline in the Perth metropolitan area. It found that habitat loss and degradation in association with a drying climate are a major threat to the species but it also found that close to half of all the dead rakali reported had drowned in recreational marron (freshwater crayfish) traps.
WWF is calling for greater efforts to address the illegal use of box/opera house marron traps in public and private waterways.
“In Western Australia box-style marron traps are illegal to use for recreational marron fishing but are readily and cheaply available,” Ms Trocini said.
“It is hoped the report will raise awareness about the risk of killing wildlife, such as the rakali, when using these traps. One option is to encourage retailers not to sell these types of traps, or at the very least, put some warning tags on them.”
In all, 167 people took part in the community survey and reported 234 sightings. More than 90 volunteers from the community joined WWF-Australia and Parks and Wildlife staff looking for indirect signs of rakali - such as tracks and feeding middens - via on-ground surveys at 42 sites.
Parks and Wildlife ecologist and co-author of the report, Dr Geoff Barrett, also at the launch, said the project demonstrated that community surveys could be very effective at collecting information over large geographic areas and identifying threats to water rat populations.
“The results of this community survey have led to river management recommendations and also raised awareness about this fascinating and often misunderstood native rodent,” Dr Barrett said.
The Rakali Community Survey 2014-2015 was made possible thanks to a grant from Lotterywest.
WWF-Australia Media Contact:
Charlie Stevens, Senior Communications Officer