Meet the rakali, Australia’s otter equivalent

The ecological value of the rakali is often under appreciated, but one young Tasmanian is looking to change that.
By Angela Heathcote February 28, 2018 Reading Time: 3 Minutes

MOST PEOPLE AREN’T aware of the existence of the rakali, a native Australian water rodent that looks a lot like a little otter.

Rakalis were commonly referred to as a ‘water rats’ until they were re-christened with their traditional Aboriginal name back in the 1990s.

Despite several attempts to boost the profile of the rakali, people continue to mistake them for pests and their ecological value goes unnoticed.

Wildlife carer Cory Young came into contact with a rakali for the first time almost five years ago.

“A rakali had been found in the reception of a hotel on Hobart’s waterfront hunched over and not looking very well. It was then sent to us to care for and from there I developed an interest in them.”

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Cory and his partner.

Last year Cory began a campaign to establish Rakali Awareness Day to promote the ecological importance of rakalis.

“Previously there was only anecdotal evidence that they were able to consume cane toads without being poisoned. Now, that has been proven and caught on camera several times.

“They assist farmers by assisting in eradicating the introduced black rat that damages crops and livestock feed.

“Here in Tasmania it has been documented that they feed on the introduced Northern Pacific Seastar that have a disastrous effects on the inhabitants of the Derwent Estuary.”

Granny Ratty

Cory intends on celebrating Rakali Awareness Day each year on 18 February, a date chosen in honour of ‘Granny Ratty’, an old rakali he looked after for five months.

Granny Ratty has proved a big hit during talks Cory regularly gives at local schools about the rakali.

“I have found most people were not even aware they existed or if they were they had a completely different image in their heads of how they would look.

“The moment people see the video of Granny Ratty swimming in her clamshell pool they all remark about how much like otters they appear.

“Overall I find people are excited and keen to learn more.”

rakali

Raising awareness around the rakali will also focus on the animals conservation status.

“They are in fact a wholly protected species Australia wide and as a result cannot be killed, relocated or trapped as sadly often happens with them.

“Sadly I know of a number of rakali that have been stoned to death by kids or fisherman as they do not like them. So certainly a change in perception is needed.”

The rodent stigma

Like so many of Australia’s native rodents, rakalis are victims of mistaken idenity.

I think rodents do have a bad name because of introcued species and sadly a lot of natives rodents get killed in error.

“A lot of people I have spoken to are not even aware we have native rodents and those that do think of the desert rodents like the hopping mice.

“Australia has an amazing array of native rodents all of which live in different habitats and niches. A great deal of education is needed to distance the stigma of rodents being a bad thing.”