A Tiny, ‘Extinct’ Marsupial Re-Emerges in the Australian Desert

A species of tiny, adorable marsupial that scientists thought had been locally extinct for more than 100 years has re-emerged in New South Wales, Australia.

The crest-tailed mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda), which weighs just 5 ounces (150 grams), was once a common small carnivore in desert inland regions of the continent, according to a statement from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). But researchers in the modern era knew the mulgara lived in New South Wales only from fossilized bone fragments.

“The crest-tailed mulgara was once widely distributed across sandy desert environments in inland Australia, but declined due to the effects of rabbits, cats and foxes,” UNSW scientist Rebecca West said in the statement.

Rabbits, cats and foxes are all invasive species in Australia, according to the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy; they arrived with European settlers and have had devastating effects on the continent’s native wildlife.

In the case of the crest-tailed mulgara, the rabbits munched on the small plants the critter needed for cover, and then the cats and foxes hunted and ate it, driving the population out of the region, according to the statement.

Some scrappy mulgaras must have found a way to survive the dark times, though. In the last couple decades, the Australian government released a viral plague that has wiped out large chunks of Australia’s invasive bunny population. And researchers believe that the rabbit decline precipitated a mulgara rebound, leading to the found one mulgara alive in Sturt National Park.

Researchers had suspected that the crest-tailed mulgara was still alive in New South wales and that its range was even spreading. Recent estimates put the species’ total population roughly at around 10,000 individuals. But this is the first live example of the animal discovered in New South Wales, according to the statement. They state that they hope future efforts to eradicate invasive carnivores like cats and foxes will further boost a mulgara rebound.

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