Surprise find a rare delight

Michael TraillAlbany Advertiser

Celebrating her 25th birthday on November 30, 1994, PhD student Elizabeth Sinclair set out to continue her week-long quokka-surveying expedition at Two Peoples Bay.

Dr Sinclair expected to see one of WA’s better known marsupials as part of her study on how isolated quokka populations were related. But what she found in one of her traps was more unusual.

“We caught an odd looking animal that looked like a baby and I was a bit concerned because it was about the size of a pouch young that wouldn’t have been fully weaned yet,” Dr Sinclair said.“I was concerned we had trapped a baby that had been separated from its mother.”

What Dr Sinclair found sent ripples of excitement through Australia’s zoological community.

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UWA zoology student Elizabeth Sinclairwith a photograph of the gilbert's potoroo she found at Two People's Bay in WA's South West
Camera IconUWA zoology student Elizabeth Sinclairwith a photograph of the gilbert's potoroo she found at Two People's Bay in WA's South West Credit: Guy Magowan/The West Austrailan, Guy Magowan The West Australian

A DNA clipping was taken from the animal, later sent to Perth, before it was released back into the bush.

“The next morning we caught two animals, the same looking animal but a juvenile and an adult, so we went ‘oh what we caught yesterday was the same as these and these are not quokkas’,” Dr Sinclair said.

Dr Sinclair and her team had in fact rediscovered the Gilbert’s potoroo, 115 years after its last official recording.

The “beautiful little soft animals”, as described by Dr Sinclair, are Australia’s most endangered marsupial and thought of as the world’s rarest critically endangered mammal.

Dr Sinclair will again return to Albany tomorrow to speak at the South Coast Threaten Species Forum, which will also celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Gilbert’s potoroo’s rediscovery.

Even though the Gilbert’s potoroo was thought to be long extinct, Dr Sinclair said shortly before her trip to Two Peoples Bay in 1994 there was still rumours among Great Southern “old timers” and a local shearer that a strange animal had been spotted around the region.

“I still don’t know, there might be another potoroo population out there,” Dr Sinclair said.

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