In Australia, an animal species is currently making headlines that many residents of the country do not even know, according to press reports. Environmentalists have released 20 long-snouted kangaroos in a sanctuary, multiple media outlets reported on Friday. The news caused a stir because the animals are living fossils but are now considered critically endangered - and because their behavior is helping to prevent bushfires. The released animals are part of a breeding program designed to help conserve the species on the continent.
These little kangaroos look a bit like rats. And with this association, the viewer is not so wrong, because "Potorous tridactylus", as the small grey-brown animal is scientifically called, is a marsupial that belongs to the family of rat-kangaroos.
Videos on YouTube and Twitter show the animals and their offspring – like big kangaroos, the mother long-snout rabbit kangaroo drags her little one around in a pouch. They are the smallest members of the kangaroo family: they measure about 30 to 40 centimeters from head to torso, the tail is 20 centimeters long or a little longer.
So now two dozen of these marsupials are hopping through a sanctuary that is part of Barrington Tops National Park, about 170 miles north of Sydney. According to the responsible organization Aussie Ark, which aims to conserve several endangered species on the continent, the mini kangaroos are "living fossils" whose appearance has not changed in the past ten million years.
Once widespread on Australia's east coast, they became extremely depleted after immigrating Europeans brought cats and foxes to the continent. Many populations of Australian animals suffer from species previously unknown there as they are hunted and eaten by them. The devastating bush fires of 2019 and 2020 had also significantly decimated the number of long-snouted kangaroos, it said.
The little kangaroos can even help prevent fires from breaking out, as environmentalists explain. Because the feeding behavior of the animals protects the soil from drying out and stimulates the growth of plants - the best insurance against extreme drought and uncontrollable bush fires.
That's why Aussie Ark calls the small animals, which are also called "long-nosed kangaroos", "ecosystem engineers". Mainly nocturnal, mini kangaroos like mushrooms and truffles best – they dig up the ground when foraging, spreading leaves and compost, which keeps the soil nice and moist and helps plants grow. The nature conservationists explained the reason for the release of the fungus spores to improve the quality of the subsoil.
According to press reports, the fire brigade was there. "I wish we could hire the animals from the troops," the chief of local firefighters was quoted as saying.
This little PR trick might help to make the animals, which are called "Long-nosed Potoroo" in their homeland, a little better known - as "animal firefighters".
Sources: Aussie Ark, YouTube / with material from dpa
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