Prince Philip and the ‘truffle loving rat-kangaroo’ – how Duke unwittingly saved mammal

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The Duke of Edinburgh, who died on April 9 2021, was well regarded as a conservationist, and was praised as “a champion for the environment”. In 1962, Gilbert’s potoroo, a smaller marsupial related to kangaroos, were thought to have died out.

Potoroos, the world’s rarest marsupial, are now said to be back from the brink of extinction according to Australian scientists.

The number of Gilbert’s potoroo is now believed to have passed 100, making the scientists who are dedicated to preserving them more optimistic that they will survive in the long term.

Experts have praised the Duke of Edinburgh’s unwitting intervention 60 years ago due, after a key intervention in the protection of bushland.

Philip successfully lobbied against the destruction of remote bushland in 1962.

Tony Friend, a research scientist who led Gilbert’s potoroo rescue efforts for 20 years, told The Times that Western Australian officials thought potoroos to be long extinct.

He said: “If that [the destruction] had happened, there would have been cats and dogs and fire and it wouldn’t have been preserved.”

Philip had been trying to save an Australian scrub bird when, on a visit to Perth in 1962, he urged that its small coastal habitat in the state’s far south west should be spared from a new housing development.

The Western Australian government capitulated, declaring Two Peoples Bay, 260 miles south of Perth, a wildlife sanctuary.

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Prince Philip news: The Duke of Edinburgh died on April 9, 2021

Thirty years later, in 1994, the bushland was found to be harbouring a Gilbert’s potoroo.

It was caught Dr Elizabeth Sinclair, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia, who was completing her PhD and surveying numbers of another small animal, the wallaby-like quokka.

“I was going , ‘nah , surely not’. This is the most researched nature reserve in Western Australia.

“Surely they haven’t been sitting here under someone’s nose for, you know, for 120 years,” Sinclair said.

The next day she snared two more of the strange creatures. 

Within days her breakthrough discovery was confirmed.

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After the Duke of Edinburgh died in 2021, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) paid tribute to Philip’s environmental campaigning.

Pavan Sukhdev, President of WWF International, said in a statement: “The Duke of Edinburgh has been a tireless champion for the environmental cause and a passionate ambassador for conservation issues around the world for decades.

“His Royal Highness helped chart the course of WWF from its very beginning and has truly made enormous contributions to the organization.

“Across more than 50 years, His Royal Highness, Prince Philip’s efforts on behalf of WWF have been inestimable – visiting WWF projects in over fifty countries on five continents, promoting conservation issues at the highest government and corporate levels, and helping with essential fundraising and awareness promotion.

“On behalf of all of us at WWF, I extend my sincere sympathies to Her Majesty the Queen, to the Royal Family and to the family of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip at this very sad time.”

Another example of Philip’s concern for environmental issues can be seen in a 1973 letter to Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

He wrote to the leader at the time that “the control of exports of wild animals… needs to be backed up by measures to protect the habitats of the rarer species”.

In the same letter, The Duke was incensed about Lake Pedder, a glacial lake submerged as part of a Tasmanian government hydro-electric scheme.

He said to Mr Whitlam: “The Tasmanian government simply does not understand the point of conservation.”



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