Rakali: the Australian “otter”

Rakali, the Australian water-rat, is an attractive and charismatic native rodent that tends to resemble an otter, rather than their pest relatives, the brown and the black rats. The amphibious mammal inhabits rivers, creeks and farm dams; however, they tend to be elusive, which may be why you haven’t spotted one before.

Rakali prefer waterbodies with low-growing dense vegetation close to the water’s edge, and occupy burrows located in creek and river banks, or large hollow logs near the water. They can grow relatively large and can be easily identified by their distinctive white-tipped tail. They are an apex predator in our waterways, with a varied diet including fish, insects, yabbies and waterbirds.

Once hunted for their soft fur, rakali populations declined dramatically until the mid-1900’s, when hunting ceased and populations were able to stabilise. Nowadays, the biggest threat to rakali populations are illegal fishing traps and nets left in waterways, which rakali get caught in and drown. They also experience predation by foxes, cats and dogs.

A recent study looked at 17 years’ worth of recorded rakali sightings across Victoria combining live-trapping and citizen science records. This information was used to examine rakali distribution and habitats. Live trapping upsteam of Toorourrong Reservoir, and records from the Atlas of Living Australia (https://www.ala.org.au/) showed rakali to be present in the City of Whittlesea, albeit in low numbers. Keep an eye out for one on your next visit to the reservoir, and remember to add your sighting to the Atlas of Living Australia.

If you are interested in learning more about the Australian water-rat, you can find the full report HERE. The Australian Platypus Conservancy are holding a rakali information session on Tuesday 24 July (for more information: gay.gallagher@bigpond.com) or call the Land Management and Biodiversity Team on 9217 2323 or 9217 2147 if you would like to report a rakali sighting or more information on how to make your property rakali-friendly.

 


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