Caloprymnus campestris (Gould, 1843:81)
Desert rat-kangaroo, Desert rat kangaroo, Desert bettong, Buff-nosed rat-kangaroo, Plains rat-kangaroo, Plain rat-kangaroo; ulakanda, oolacunta (Yalliyanda, Wonkonguroo); coorgee, koorjee (Yowrorka); wirtiree (Dieri); ngudlukanta (Wangkangurru)
Taxonomy & Nomenclature
Synonym/s: Bettongia campestris Gould, 1843:81 (basionym); Hypsiprymnus campestris (Gould, 1843:81)
Last record: 1935 (Robinson et al., 2023:299); 1950s (?) (Johnson, 2006:169)
IUCN status: Extinct
Early European specimens (1841)
This species was first recorded in 1841 when two or three specimens were caught and sent to John Gould in London by George Grey, and these provided the basis for Gould's description of the species (Gould, 1843). No further specimens were collected during the century and the species was considered potentially extinct in the early 1900's.
A second 19th century population near Birdsville?
"Two of the most interesting, and previously uncited, references to fauna are from Hodgkinson’s journal along the Mulligan River in far western Queensland in 1876. North-west of Birdsville, he observed that ‘The kangaroo-rats here build nests three feet high against the trunks of giddia or other trees’ (7 August 1876). Based on the description of the nests, this observation probably refers to the now-extinct Caloprymnus campestris, and is a significant extension of its known former range (Finlayson 1932; Strahan 2004)."
A third 19th century population on the Great Australian Bight?
Tate (1879:124) reports the species as being the commonest encountered on the Bunda Plateau of the Great Australian Bight, however this record is doubtful (Finlayson, 1932a:150) and no associated specimen is known to confirm the identity which likely refers to either B. lesueuri or B. penicillata (Finlayson, 1932a:150). Though interestingly, the local name given for the species (weelba) by Tate has been reported elsewhere to be one of two names (along with wirlpa) that is used by Aboriginal people of southern South Australia and adjacent Western Australia for an unidentified macropod-like species (Tunbridge, 1991:59). John Calaby suggests that this unidentified species might refer to an undescribed species known only from subfossils (Tunbridge, 1991:59). This latter species was subsequently described as Bettongia pusilla (McNamara, 1997). Whether or not the "'wirlpa', 'weelba' etc." (Tunbridge, 1991:59) refers to Caloprymnus or to Bettongia pusillus may never be known, though it seems likely that a third, now-extinct species did occur on the Great Australian Bight alongside B. lesueuri and B. penicillata.
Unofficial rediscovery (1902-1905)
Recently, it has come to light that a specimen was collected by Henry James Hillier at Lake Killalpaninna, South Australia, between 1902 and 1905 (Vernes et al., 2019).
Official rediscovery (1931)
It wasn't until September 1931, when Mr. Lou Reese, owner of Appamunna Station, sent Hedley Herbert Finlayson, Curator of Mammals at the South Australian Museum, the skin and skull of an individual in (Finlayson, 1932a,b) that the species was finally rediscovered. But by 1935 the species had disappeared again, and there have been no confirmed sightings or specimens since that date.
Of all recently extinct Australian species this is one of the best candidates for rediscovery. Since it occupied such a remote habitat, and was seemingly capable of great feats of both endurance and agility.
Unconfirmed reports, in chronological order:
1. "Another stockman remembers finally capturing a desert rat-kangaroo with dogs after several failed attempts in which his dogs “wore out the soles of their feet” chasing the animals (1954; from Carr and Robinson 1997)" (source)
2. Sightings have been made in 1956-7 and 1974-5, both following periods of rain (Carr & Robinson, 1997).
3. Fresh remains of C. campestris were apparently found in the 1980's (Lavery, 1985:46-48).*
4. Reports have also been collected up until 1988 (Carr & Robinson, 1997) from Clifton Hills Station, South Australia, where a bettong-like animal was said to have some material, presumably for nesting, in its tail, which is C. campestris behaviour.
5. Reports of the species darting out from spinifex grass clumps when disturbed by stockmen during the 1990's (Lavery & Kirkpatrick, 1997). One of these sightings may be the same as one in August 1993 as mentioned by (Robinson et al., 2023:299).
6. "And finally, a traveller camped in the region observed “We frightened a little kangaroo from a clump of saltbush, and it tore off … this tiny kangaroo quickly sped away like no other [I’d] ever seen before ” (1994; pers. comm. 2018)." (source)
7. Night time in May 2011 at Peake Station (Oodnadatta Track) in South Australia (Robinson & Forrest, 2012); "Tiana Forrest remembers seeing an animal that “moved very quickly … [It had] a rounded body … the tail was bare in that it had no long hair or tufts ”. But she only gathered a “freeze frame snapshot ” in her mind, because the animal “shot off so quickly ” (2011; from Robinson and Forrest, 2012)." (source)
8. One or more unconfirmed reports from 2013 (Vernes et al., 2021b; fide Westerman et al., 2021)
* Although this publication is cited by several authors, it is in fact incorrect, as an examination of it shows no mention of any recently dead individuals. The actual source for these claims is therefore unknown to me.
Queensland (historically), South Australia (historically) & Western Australia (prehistorically), Australia
Type locality: South Australia (Calaby & Richardson, 1988:56)
"Skeletal remains reported from the surface in Webb's Cave, on Mundrabilla Station, to the east of Albany, provide the first record from Western Australia, indicating a much wider range prior to the introduction of foreign mammals."
(Troughton, 1957:166; but see Lundelius, 1963)
Anatomy & Morphology
Body mass: 900gm (Johnson, 2006:169).
Biology & Ecology
"Ecology: temperate, sand plain desert, stony desert, terrestrial, nocturnal, omnivore; nest builder."
(Calaby & Richardson, 1988:56)
Holotype: BMNH 18126.96.36.199 (skull) / BMNH 188.8.131.52 (skin) (adult male) (Calaby & Richardson, 1988:56)
Paratypes: 2 x immature specimens skin & skull in BMNH (Calaby & Richardson, 1988:56)
MCZ 37651 (female; skin and skull)
WAM 2655 (donated in 1945; Kitchener & Vicker, 1981:50)
AM M21674 (skin; Vernes et al., 2019)
MV C 6788.2 (female, 70% ethanol) (source)
MV C 7727.1 (source)
SAM M3256 (Beck et al., 2022:SM20)
SAM M3257 (Beck et al., 2022:SM20)
BMNH 18184.108.40.206 (Beck et al., 2022:SM20)
BMNH 18220.127.116.11 (Beck et al., 2022:SM20)
At least three photos of living Desert rat-kangaroo's were taken by Hedley Herbert Finlayson in 1931, as well as at least one photo of a recently dead animal (i.e. fourth photo).
Source: https://experiment.com/u/Lw33fA; also published in (Johnson, 2006:2).
Above: "front view of adult ♀" (with blacked out background) (Finlayson, 1932a:pl. 8). This copy with background intact. Source: https://experiment.com/u/qitkgA
Source: Finlayson, 1932:a:pl 7
Original scientific description:
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