PROTECTING THE CENTRAL ROCK RAT
The critically endangered central rock-rat (Zyzomys pendunculatus). Photo: P. McDonald.
PROTECTING THE CENTRAL ROCK RAT (ZYZOMYS PENDUNCULATUS)
Territory Natural Resource Management (TNRM) has been contracted under the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program to deliver a project that will stabilise or improve the trajectory of the central rock-rat through predator and on-ground management.
TNRM has formed partnerships with Indigenous ranger groups, Traditional Owners and the Flora and Fauna Division of the Northern Territory Government in Central Australia to carry out this project.
TNRM entered an agreement with the Flora and Fauna Division from Alice Springs to undertake emergency intervention of feral cat control and monitoring for cats and central rock-rats in Tjoritja/MacDonnell Ranges National Park.
Camera traps were deployed across two ranges on rugged mountain tops accessible only by helicopter.
Cameras were revisited in June and August to change SD cards, batteries and refresh bait attractants
Feral cat control was undertaken in June. Camera trapping data will allow scientists to analyse before and after baiting numbers of cats to identify how well cat management has worked.
One known population of central rock-rats occurs outside of a protected area on Mount Edward, land that is managed through Anangu Luritjiku rangers based in Papunya.
TNRM will be engaging with these rangers and Traditional Owners to determine monitoring and habitat assessment requirements, and liaise with experts to advise on fire and feral cat management.
THE CRITICAL SITUATION OF THE CENTRAL ROCK RAT
The central rock-rat (Zyzomys pendunculatus) is a critically endangered native rodent. It has undergone a massive reduction (>95%) of its extent of occurrence since European settlement. The species was thought to be extinct from 1960 until it was rediscovered in 1996.
The central rock-rat is now known from only two locations in central Australia, on Quartzite ranges west of Alice Springs. The main population is found in Tjoritja/MacDonnell Ranges National Park, with another recently discovered population on land looked after by the Central Land Council’s Anangu Luritjiku rangers.
THREATS TO THE SPECIES
Large-scale wildfires and predation by feral cats are the key threats to this species, and predation is often increased after fire removes the protective vegetation cover. Drought and wildfires in 2002 severely decreased the population and extensive wildfires in summer 2018/19 likely further reduced the already low population.
To protect the remaining central rock-rat populations, it is vital to implement appropriate fire and predator management.