Rufous hare-wallaby

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Rufous hare-wallaby[1]
Rufous hare wallaby.jpg
Mammals of Australia, Vol. II Plate 57
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Marsupialia
Order: Diprotodontia
Family: Macropodidae
Genus: Lagorchestes
L. hirsutus
Binomial name
Lagorchestes hirsutus
Gould, 1844
Rufous Hare Wallaby area.png
Rufous hare-wallaby range
(blue — native, red — introduced)

The rufous hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes hirsutus), also known as the mala, is a small macropod found in Australia. It was formerly widely distributed across the western half of the continent but is now confined to Bernier Island and Dorre Island Islands off Western Australia.[3] Although once widespread in the central and western deserts, predation by feral cats and foxes, and destructive wildfires, caused the last wild population on mainland Australia to go extinct in the early 1990s [4]. It is currently classified as vulnerable.[2] Mala prefer spinifex sandplain habitat, the animals build burrows under large spinifex hummocks. The burrows are tunnel-like structures with a spinifex roof. This provides a cool refuge during the heat of the day. In summer, they are likely to dig deeper burrows to withstand searing desert temperatures [5]

The rufous hare-wallaby has rufous-grey fur and is the smallest hare-wallaby, weighing just 800-1600 grams[6]. It is a solitary nocturnal herbivore that feeds on herbs, leaves and seeds. It is currently being reintroduced to mainland Australia, notably in the Tanami Desert in the Northern Territory.[3] In July 2019, the first reintroductions into the Newhaven wildlife sanctuary were conducted, with the release of 30 individuals into the 9,400 hectare, feral predator-free area[7].


The first European to describe the rufous hare-wallaby was John Gould (1844) in The Mammals of Australia.

Four distinct subpopulations of this species have been described as subspecies, especially with regard to their conservation status. Estimates of these island colonies numbers were between 4,300 and 6,700 in 1994, the environmental conditions cause fluctuations in the total number of animals.

Two possible subspecies are found in range restricted to islands near Western Australia.

  • Lagorchestes hirsutus bernieri is only found at Bernier Island. This name has priority if not distinct from subspecies:
  • Lagorchestes hirsutus dorreae is only found at Dorre Island.

The fourth is an unnamed subspecies that has been conserved by relocation.

  • Lagorchestes hirsutus ssp. was originally discovered in the Tanami Desert, and was once widespread across the arid centre of Australia. The only existing members of this group have been translocated to several sites in Western Australia as captive colonies. These are at the Dryandra Woodland, Shark Bay and Trimouille Island. The colony on the latter is estimated to be over 100 individuals.[2]


A species of Lagorchestes, the smallest of the genus, the combined length of the head and body is 310 to 390 millimetres, greater than the tail length of 245 to 300 mm. Their weight range is 800 to 1600 grams and body form is comparatively light and delicate. The coloration of the pelage is rufous overall, greyer at the upper back and yellowish at the underside and forearm. Some parts of the population have greyer fur at the underside, those at the Bernier and Dorre island in Shark Bay. The sandy colour of the tail terminates in a grey tip. The fur is long and shaggy in appearance.[8]

Significance in Anangu (Aboriginal) culture[edit]

For the Anangu, or Aboriginal people, the Mala or 'hare wallaby people' are important ancestral beings. For tens of thousands of years, the Mala have watched over them from rocks and caves and walls, guiding them on their relationships with people, plants and animals, rules for living and caring for country. Mala Tjukurpa, the Mala Law, is central to their living culture and celebrated in story, song, dance and ceremony.[9]


  1. ^ Groves, C.P. (2005). Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 63. ISBN 0-801-88221-4. OCLC 62265494.
  2. ^ a b c d Richards, J.; Morris, K.; Friend, T. & Burbidge, A. (2008). "Lagorchestes hirsutus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2008. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  3. ^ a b Menkhorst, Peter (2001). A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. Oxford University Press. p. 108.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Menkhorst, P.W.; Knight, F. (2011). A field guide to the mammals of Australia (3rd ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press. p. 112. ISBN 9780195573954.
  9. ^ Mala Reintroduction Factsheet.

External links[edit]