Survey on water rats
THE World Wildlife Fund is seeking information from the public about rakali, or water rats, at local wetlands.
To help protect the species, WWF and the Kensington-based Department of Parks and Wildlife are asking West Australians to take part in a citizen science project designed to gather important information about their range and abundance.
All sighting reports will be included in the Rakali Community Survey, which has received more than 100 sighting reports since its launch on December 1.
WWF’s southwest Australia species conservation manager Katherine Howard said the survey will be conducted until March 31.
“Rakali have been recorded at Lake Goollelal and Lake Joondalup and also from Loch McNess,” she said.
“We are interested in sighting reports from any location and would certainly love to hear about any evidence of rakali found at any other wetlands in the area.
“If people are taking holidays anywhere with a river, lake or wetland anywhere in WA we are also hoping they can keep an eye out for evidence of rakali while they enjoy their fishing, boating or bushwalking activities.”
WWF spokeswoman Sabrina Trocini said rakali were secretive but their presence could be detected by footprints or tail drag marks in mud or sand.
“The presence of feeding ‘middens’ can also be a good indicator of their presence,” she said.
“These are dense scatterings of shell pieces left behind after their meals of crabs, crayfish or mussels.”
Often mistaken for black rats, platypus and even otters, rakali occur naturally across Australia, according to DPAW ecologist Geoff Barrett said.
“Their presence is considered an indicator of healthy waterways,” he said.
The water rats are bigger than black rats, have partially webbed feet, broad, heavily whiskered noses and a white tip on their long, thick tails.
Their water-repellent fur is dark grey to black on their backs, with paler bellies.
Dr Trocini said people could send in photos of rakali footprints or feeding middens with the time and location.
“If you can get out and do a rakali walk, please let us know – even if there was no sign of the species,” she said.
The presence of water rats is considered an indicator of healthy waterways.