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Two extinct bandicoots

This is a sad story.

In a recent paper in Zootaxa, taxonomist Kenny Travouillion from the Western Australian Museum and colleagues have studied and revised the pig-footed bandicoot, Chaeropus ecaudatus, and discovered a new species, which they named C. yirratji.

The remarkable pig-footed bandicoot Chaeropus ecaudatus. By John Gould - The Mammals of Australia, Public Domain,

We will never see either of them - both species were driven to extinction following the European settlement of Australia, probably by a combination of grazing and the introduction of rabbits, cats and foxes. The last known animal died in the 1950s.

There are so many tragic elements to this story. Pig-footed bandicoots were simply remarkable, and unlike any other bandicoots alive today, or indeed any other mammals in the world. They had extraordinarily, almost ridiculously, slender limbs and a graceful body. Few accounts are available of the species before it was driven to extinction, but it seems to have been remarkably fleet and agile.

Neither name of the pig-footed bandicoot does justice to the animals. They were called 'pig-footed' on account of their forepaws, which had two functional toes with hooves, and ecaudatus (Latin for 'tail-less') because the specimen from which the species was named happened to have lost its tail!

The taxonomic work that led to the discovery of C. yirratji was made more difficult by the very few available specimens of pig-footed bandicoots - only around 30 specimens are in museum collections around the world (not counting fossil and sub-fossil bones).

Nevertheless, clear differences in skulls, teeth and body shapes allowed the separation of C. yirratji from C. ecaudatus (and the recognition of three subspecies in the latter). Some specimens also yielded DNA, which confirmed the species taxonomy.

Australia's un-enviable position as the continent with the worst record of post-European mammal extinctions in the world has been confirmed again - and the number of known extinct species has just gone up by one.

Vale Chaeropus yirratji.

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