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The Spectacled Hare Wallaby

When the British started colonising Australia in 1788 there were at least four species of Hare Wallaby; two of these are now extinct.

The only one that is still surviving over a large range is the Spectacled Hare Wallaby, Lagochetes conspicillatus.  This species still lives in much of Northern Australia as well as parts of New Guinea and some offshore islands.

Size

The Spectacled Hare Wallaby is the biggest of the Hare Wallabies, growing to about four and a half Kilograms (10 pounds).  Its eyes have reddish fur round them, giving the animal the appearance of wearing spectacles.

Threats

All the Hare Wallabies have suffered enormously from the changes in the Australia environment caused by humans and particularly their animals.  Even the spectacled species is greatly reduced in numbers.  The Central Hare Wallaby and the Eastern Hare Wallaby are now extinct. The Rufus Hare Wallaby only exists on offshore islands and small protected sanctuaries on the mainland.

Feral Cats are a major predator, but Foxes and Feral Dogs including Dingos also take their toll.

Barrow Island

Barrow Island is the second biggest Island off the coast of Western Australia.  Its area is about 53 square miles.  This island used to be part of the mainland of Australia, and was used by the native Australia people.  Around 8000 years ago it became separated from the Australian mainland by rising sea levels.

Many types of animals were living on the island.  One of these was the spectacled Hare Wallaby.  Some genetic changes in this species have taken place in that time, and the ones left on the island are now classified as a separate subspecies; Lagochetes conspicillatus conspicillatus.

Protected

Barrow Island did not have enough surface water to support pastoralism.  It was used by fishermen including pearl fishers as well as people catching Turtles.

In 1910, it was declared a class A nature reserve.  This was the highest class of this type of protected area at the time.

Oil

In the 1950’s the area was recognised as being likely to contain oil.  The nature reserve classification was not sufficient to protect the island, but exploitation was delayed by the use of atomic and thermonuclear weapons.
The environmental protections required by the Australian government in the 1950's were much less than they were 10 years later.  If oil drilling had been started in the 50's the extinction of many of the animals on the island seems likely to have happened.

Nuclear Umbrella

16 Kilometres away from Barrow Island are the Montebello Islands.  The British used these islands for their nuclear tests.  At least one of these was a Hydrogen Bomb so powerful that the British government lied to the Australian government because it exceeded the maximum power agreed to.  In fact it seems that the breach was inadvertent and the British scientists had underestimated the power of the device.

The 76 kilometre exclusion zone delayed oil drilling.

Oil Drilling

Oil drilling on Barrow Island started in 1963.  It was done under strict environmental protection and although some disruption was inevitable, the animals seem to be surviving.