Rufous Hare Wallaby, Lagorchestes hirsutus
The rufous hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes hirsutus), or the mala, is a marsupial that can be found in Australia. Its range is now limited to western areas of Australia and the islands of Dorre and Bernier, although it once extended to the western part of the continent. John Gould first described it in 1844 in The Mammals of Australia. Its fur is reddish gray in color and it is the smallest species within its genus. It is most active at night and feeds on seeds, leaves, and herbs. The rufous hare-wallaby appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Vulnerable.”
There have been four populations discovered of the rufous hare-wallaby, but these are typically described as subspecies due to a difference in status. In 1994, it was estimated that the total population of living subspecies was between 4,300 and 6,700 individuals, but these numbers can vary depending upon environmental factors. The first subspecies, known as Lagorchestes hirsutus hirsutus, is actually extinct and once ranged through Australia’s mainland. This species was the type species that Gould used to describe the rufous-hare-wallaby in 1844.
There are two possible subspecies of the rufous-hare wallaby that occur in restricted ranges on islands near Australia. These include Lagorchestes hirsutus dorreae, found on Dorre Island, and Lagorchestes hirsutus bernieri, found on Bernier Island. The fourth subspecies, known as Lagorchestes hirsutus ssp., has not been classified with a proper name. Its range once extended through the arid regions of central Australia, but it was discovered in the Tanami Desert. The only known individuals of this type have been relocated into captivity to areas including the Dryandra Conservation Reserve, Trimouille Island, and Shark Bay.
The Aboriginal people known as the Anangu call the rufous hare-wallaby mala or “hare wallaby people,” which are considered significant ancestral beings. These beings watched over the Anangu for tens of thousands of years, observing from walls, rocks, and caves and acting as guides to the humans. The mala are featured so prominently in the daily lives of the Anangu that they follow the Mala Tjukurpa, or Mala Law, which can be seen in ceremonies, dance, song, and stories.
Image Caption: Lagorchestes hirsutus. Credit: John Gould/Wikipedia