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Friday, 14 July 2017 09:02

Water rats on decline

The Australian water rat appears to be on the decline in East Gippsland, according to the Australian Platypus Conservancy, based in Wiseleigh. While sightings are relatively common around the Gippsland Lakes, there’s concern that sightings around freshwater are rare. Biologist, Geoff Williams, is undertaking a study to ascertain just how many native water rats are still in East Gippsland. While 700 new records in regards to the rodent have now been collected from across Victoria in the current survey, not one was reported for freshwater habitats in and east of the Snowy River basin. Mr Williams says sightings are also low for most East Gippsland rivers, including the Mitchell, Tambo, Nicholson and Snowy. “The obvious conclusion is that water rats genuinely occur in low numbers in this region,” Mr Williams said. “However, this is why all reports from the community of any sightings, both past and present, are vital to our understanding of the conservation status of this species.”

The Australian water rat is an aquatic predator which resembles a small otter in many ways. Furnished with a dense set of whiskers, its hind feet are broad, partly webbed and paddle- like. The tail is well-furred and thick to help serve as a rudder when swimming. It also has a distinctive white tip on its tail. The water rat’s fur is soft and lustrous, drying quickly and helping to keep the animal warm in the water. While anecdotal evidence suggests that water rat numbers have declined in many places in south eastern Australia since the mid-1990’s through drought and habitat degradation, more work is needed to map where and determine how the species’ distribution may have changed in recent decades. Recent sightings of water rats can be reported to the Australian Platypus Conservancy. The information will be added to a secure data base and contribute to an improved understanding of the species’ status in the wild. Any finding of dead water rats should also be reported.

Photo: Mel Mattingly