Estuary alert for the retiring rakali

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By Barry Morris

SCOTLAND’S Loch Ness has its monster and Balcombe Estuary at Mt Martha has its . . . rakali.

The elusive rakali is the Australian equivalent of an otter or water rat.

While argument still rages about the existence of Nessie, there is no doubt about the rakali which weighs up to 1.3 kilograms, has a distinctive white-tipped tail and lives in burrows or hollow logs on creek banks.

Sue Brabander, the former information ranger at The Briars historic property at Mt Martha, is aware of four sightings since 2015 in Balcombe Creek and estuary.

“A young family thought they had been watching a platypus in Balcombe Creek at the western boardwalk creek walk inside the wildlife sanctuary. It would most likely been a rakali because we have no platypus,” Ms Brabander said.

“In another incident, a young couple kayaking in the estuary heard a splash behind them.

“They saw an animal swimming near them, unafraid of the kayaks and occupants.

“Third, a young man told me he had seen rakali running along the water’s edge when he fished the estuary in the evenings.

“The most recent reported incident was also at the boardwalk bridge over the creek during the September school holidays last year. A rakali walked around a Briars ranger with 16 people on a spotlight walk before jumping into the creek and swimming off.”

Because she does not have photographic evidence, Ms Brabander has contacted conservation watchdog BERG Mt Martha asking its members to keep watch out for the rakali.

“I’m fascinated by all our amazing, beautiful creatures and that’s why I always plead with dog owners to keep their pets on a lead,” she said.

The rakali is as big as a medium-sized platypus and resembles a small otter with a blunt muzzle, dense set of whiskers, webbed and paddle-like hind feet and well-furred tail that serves as a rudder when swimming.

Its scientific name is Hydromys chrysogaster – golden-bellied water mouse. It arrived in Australia about 5-10 million years ago, swimming or rafting from Papua New Guinea.

The Australian Platypus Conservancy, dedicated to preserving the platypus and its freshwater habitats, is also committed to supporting the rakali.

Early European settlers sometimes called this animal a beaver rat, even though it is actually much more like an otter than a beaver in its behaviour.

Its name was officially adopted as rakali (an Aboriginal term) in the early 1990s.

It has a website with detailed information and photos of the creature: platypus.asn.au/rakali/ 

First published in the Mornington News – 8 May 2018

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