Wa­ter-rat

Australian Geographic - - Your Society -

Hy­dromys chryso­gaster M: 231-345mm F: 245-370mm

RAT FUR WAS once a fash­ion item, and to this end Aus­tralian wa­ter-rats were trapped in large num­bers dur­ing the 1930s and ’40s. To meet de­mand for capes and cloaks, one fur­rier firm even pro­posed rat farms for Tas­ma­nia’s swamps.

Trap­ping in­ten­si­fied dur­ing World War II when muskrat furs stopped ar­riv­ing from the USA. Wa­ter-rats served well, be­ing large with thick fur to in­su­late them when they dive for fish, frog, wa­ter­bird, mus­sel and cray­fish prey. To­day this ro­dent is pro­tected. Wa­ter-rat is a bland name for such a dra­matic hunter, and many na­ture-lovers would pre­fer to see an Abo­rig­i­nal name, rakali, em­braced in­stead. In Mel­bourne, rakali can be seen at dusk around St Kilda Pier and on the Elwood Canal foot­path. They feed mainly at night, at ‘ta­bles’ – rocks or logs where they dis­mem­ber mus­sels and yab­bies and aban­don the hard parts.

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