Meet Your Adorable New Animal Obsession: The Eastern Bettong
When you think of Australian wildlife you tend to think of the usual suspects, don't you? Kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, duck-billed platypuses, dingos, and kookaburras are synonymous with Australia in a lot of people's minds, but there's plenty of other weird and wonderful species out there who don't get the spotlight in quite the same way.
That's a real shame because plenty of Australia's lesser known animals are on the edge of extinction due to the mistakes of humans. When British colonists first arrived in Australia they brought rabbits, cats, foxes, and other invasive species with them. The animals that we are familiar may be pretty harmless to us, but they absolutely wrecked the Australian eco-system. Animals that had never had to deal with predators were suddenly faced with new threats and unfortunately plenty of species couldn't evolve quick enough to adapt to the new introductions to the food chain.
One of those critters was the Eastern Bettong, a distant relative of the kangaroo, though Bettong's are a lot smaller and more mouse-like.
The introduction of the red fox and the domestic cat, alongside competitors like rabbits wiped out the Australian population of the Eastern Bettong by the 1920s and the species was faced with extinction. However, luckily a small population of Eastern Bettong survived on the island of Tasmania. Thanks to the hard-work of some dedicated Bettong enthusiasts, a breeding population of Eastern Bettong was reintroduced to Mulligan's Flat, a sanctuary in Canberra in 2012 and they seem to be doing quite well.
However, one of the ecologists who works at the sanctuary, Kate Grarock, has made it her mission to make the Eastern Bettong a household name. She spoke to Mashable Australia about her crusade:
No-one's heard of a bettong, except for people who've been to Tasmania, or lived in Tasmania. I studied environmental science, and I hadn't even heard of one. It's a representation of the sad state of affairs for these little bettongs. They're really cool little animals.A lot of them aren't doing terribly well, which is why I guess kids aren't learning about them. At Mulligan's [Flat], we feel like people need to be aware of them and grow to love them to ensure they're protected.
What we're trying to do is get the message out there and make people fall in love with these gorgeous little animals. But of course, they're more than cool little animals, they're doing great things for the ecosystem too.
Yeah, that's right, Bettongs aren't just an adorable face; they also play an important role in their eco-systems. They dig up truffles (the mushrooms that is, not the chocolates) to eat them but then they spread those truffles' spores around. And that's important because truffles have a symbiotic relationship with trees. Truffles help to extend tree roots which means that they can absorb more nutrients, thus helping the trees to grow bigger and stronger, providing more habitats for other animals.
Eastern Bettongs are adorable and in case you were under any allusions about how cute they are, we'd also like you to meet Brian and Berry: a pair of hand-reared Eastern Bettongs who grew up with Kate. She takes them round to schools and community centres in the area around Mulligan's Flat to educate people about the adorable species. They also have Twitter, Facebook, and Vine pages to help fans keep up to date with all their adventures.
However, there is a point to all this, and that's that Mulligan's Flat is in desperate need of additional funding. Their goal is to reintroduce Eastern Bettongs to the Australian mainland and to do so they need to establish a solid population at Mulligan's Flat, and to do that they need to build an improved fence around the area. While they've managed to secure some funding from the Australian government, there's still a way to go. So if you care about adorable, rare creatures that need a little extra help, why not consider donating? You can do so here.
Go on, how could you say no to those little faces?!