“Thanks to an unwitting intervention by the Duke of Edinburgh 60 years ago, the world’s rarest marsupial has come back from the very brink of extinction.
Gilbert’s potoroo — a nocturnal, fungi-loving rat–kangaroo — is named for English naturalist John Gilbert, who first documented them on a visit to Australia in 1838.
By the 1870s, however, the macropod had seemingly gone extinct, a fate credited to invasive predators and a history of extensive hunting by the Aboriginal people.
Prince Philip reportedly ruffled official feathers in 1962, amid a visit to Perth, when he lobbied Western Australian authorities against the destruction of bushland around Two Peoples Bay which had originally been earmarked for housing developments.
‘If that had happened, there would have been cats and dogs and fire and it wouldn’t have been preserved,’ biologist Tony Friend of the Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation told the Times.
The Duke had hoped to save the elusive ‘noisy scrubbird’ — a species which, much like the Gilbert’s potoroo, had been long thought extinct until a small population was found to be inhabiting Two Peoples Bay the year prior to royal’s intervention.
Fortunately, Western Australia’s authorities capitulated, calling off the construction plans and eventually designating Two Peoples Bay a nature reserve in 1967.
It would be nearly three decades before evolutionary biologist Elizabeth Sinclair stumbled across a Gilbert’s potoroo in the nature reserve by accident while surveying the numbers in the area of a wallaby-like species called ‘quokka’.
At first, she explained to the Times, she didn’t quite believe what she had found.
‘I was going, “nah, surely not”. This is the most researched nature reserve in Western Australia,’ she said.
‘Surely they hadn’t been sitting here under someone’s nose for, you know, 120 years!’
However, her snares captured two more of the elusive marsupials the very next day after the first discovery — and the seemingly miraculous find was confirmed….”