WWF-Australia is urging all Western Australians to celebrate World Wetlands Day on 2 February by visiting their favourite river, lake or wetland and looking for evidence of the elusive rakali or native Australian water rat.
“Rakali are secretive and hard to see but their presence can often be detected by footprints or tail drag marks in mud or sand,” said WWF spokesperson Dr Sabrina Trocini.
“The presence of feeding ‘middens’ can also be a good indicator of their presence. These are dense scatterings of shell pieces left behind after their meals of crabs, crayfish or mussels.”
Little is known of the current distribution of rakali in southern Western Australia except that their range has declined in the Wheatbelt. This is thought to be largely due to salinity and habitat degradation.
To help protect the species, WWF and the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife are asking Western Australians to take part in a citizen science project designed to gather important information about their range and abundance.
All sighting reports will be included in the Rakali Community Survey, which was launched on 1 December 2014 and will run until 31 March 2015. Over one hundred rakali sighting reports have been received to date but more are needed.
“People are surprised to learn that rakali are native water rats occurring naturally in all Australian states and territories, and that their presence is considered an indicator of healthy waterways,” said Parks and Wildlife ecologist Dr Geoff Barrett.
Rakali are larger than introduced black rats, have partially webbed feet and can be distinguished by their broad, heavily whiskered noses and the white tip on their long, thick tails. Their water-repellent fur is dark grey to black on their backs, with paler bellies.
“Doing a Rakali Walk is easy. Starting at a bridge, boatramp or other landmark, just walk a hundred metres or more along the water’s edge. If you see anything that looks like a rakali footprint or a feeding midden, take a photo and send it with the date and location to us at email@example.com or call us on 08 6231 0223,” Dr Trocini said.
“If you don’t find anything, that’s important information too. So if you can get out and do a Rakali Walk please let us know, even if there was no sign of the species.”
The Rakali Community Survey has been made possible thanks to a grant from Lotterywest.
WWF-Australia Media Contact:
Charlie Stevens, Senior Communications Specialist