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GILBERT'S POTOROO - AUSTRALIA'S MOST ENDANGERED MAMMAL

History of Gilbert's Potoroo - John Gould's Lithograph and Text


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Background

The first illustration of Gilbert's Potoroo (entitled "Gilbert's Rat Kangaroo") appeared in Gould's "Mammals of Australia". This was a limited edition folio sized publication produced for subscribers in three volumes. Each species was illustrated in a magnificent full-page hand-coloured lithograph. Gilbert's Potoroo appeared in volume 2, published in 1863, and the accompanying text, reproduced below, quoted Gilbert's notes on the species.

John Gould's Lithograph

John Gould's Lithograph
 

John Gould's Text from "Mammals of Australia"

In its outward appearance this little animal closely resembles the Hypsiprymnus murinus, but on a comparison of the skulls of the two species a marked difference is observable, that of the present having the nasal bone more produced or swollen out at the sides; the tarsi and tail also are shorter, and the general colour is of a deeper hue in Gilbert's than in the Hyp. murinus. These Hypsiprymni are evidently analogues of each other, the former being found only on the western coast, while the other is confined to the eastern portions of Australia.

The animal here represented was procured at King George's Sound, where it is called Ngil-gyte by the Aborigines. In dedicating it to the late Mr Gilbert, who proceeded with me to Australia to assist in the objects of my expedition, I embraced with pleasure the opportunity afforded me of expressing my sense of the great zeal and assiduity he displayed in the objects of his mission; and as science is indebted to him for the knowledge of this and several other interesting discoveries, I trust that, however objectionable it may be to name species after individuals, in this instance it will not be deemed inappropriate.

The above remarks were published in the first Part of my Monograph of the Macropodidae, or Family of Kangaroos, soon after which Mr Gilbert made a second journey to the interior of Western Australia, and while there, transmitted to me the following additional information respecting this species:

'This little animal may be said to be the constant companion of Halmaturus brachyurus, as they are always found together amidst the dense thickets and rank vegetation bordering swamps and running streams. The natives capture it by breaking down a long, narrow passage in the thicket, in which a number of them remain stationed, while others, particularly old men and women, walk through the thicket, and by beating the bushes and making a yelling noise, drive the affrighted animals before them into the cleared space, where they are immediately speared by those on the watch: in this way a tribe of natives will often kill an immense number of both species in a few hours. I have not heard of the Hypsiprymnus Gilberti being found in any other part of the colony than King George's Sound.'

General colour of all the upper surface mingled grey, brown and black, produced by the base of the hairs being grey, the middle portion brown and black; centre and lower part of the back washed with reddish brown; a blackish line commences at the nose and blends into the general colour on the forehead; all the under surface greyish white; hands greyish brown; feet blackish brown; tail black, very thinly clothed with short hairs.


Note on Species Names used by Gould

Over time the scientific and common names used for various species can change. The following table lists some names as used by Gould in "Mammals of Australia" together with the names in current usage:

 Gould's Mammals of AustraliaCurrent Usage
Hypsiprymnus gilberti
Gilbert's Rat Kangaroo
Potorous gilbertii
Gilbert's Potoroo
Hypsiprymnus murinus
New South Wales Rat Kangaroo
Potorous tridactylus tridactylus
Long-nosed Potoroo (SE Australia)
Hypsiprymnus apicalis
Tasmanian Rat Kangaroo
Potorous tridactylus apicalis
Long-nosed Potoroo (Tasmania)
Hypsiprymnus platyops
Broad-faced Rat Kangaroo
Potorous platyops
Broad-faced Potoroo
Halmaturus brachyurus
Short-tailed Wallaby
Setonix brachyurus
Quokka