OCTOBER: Skeleton of a Desert Rat Kangaroo (Caloprymnus campestris)

September 1935 Ooroowilanie, South Australia H. H. Finlayson collection (U8047), donated in 2004.

The desert rat kangaroo (Caloprymnus campestris) was a tiny type of kangaroo related to the bettongs and potoroos that used to live in the harshest of desert habitats in north-eastern South Australia and the adjacent parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory.

The first indication to western science that this creature existed came from three skins sent to John Gould in England in the early 1840s. Although the locations in which the animals were captured was not recorded, they were said to have been taken from “stony and sandy plains in South Australia”. No further trace of the species emerged and it was feared extinct until a station owner in the far north-east corner of South Australia reported an animal that matched the description of the desert rat kangaroo in 1930.

The mammalogist, Hedley Herbert Finlayson (1895-1991), travelled to the area to search for the desert rat kangaroo. He successfully located a population of the animals in 1931, in bleak gibber desert and sparse saltbush plains. He continued to return to the area over the following years to study the animals. However, after a few years, the rediscovered population declined and no more could be found.

This skeleton belongs to the last collected individual of the species which was captured at Ooroowilanie on the Birdsville track, in September 1935. The desert rat kangaroo was declared extinct in 1994, making it the only rediscovered mammal species to become extinct. However, there exists faint hope that it may still survive, as there have been several credible but unconfirmed sightings, one as recently as 2011.

This skeleton is part of the Finlayson collection which was donated to MAGNT. The collection is an extremely valuable resource of mammal specimens from the 1920s and 1930s, before a wave of extinctions wiped out many small mammal species from the arid centre of Australia.


Left: Skeleton of Desert Rat Kangaroo (Caloprymnus campestris), MAGNT Finlayson Collection (U8047).

Centre: Desert Rat Kangaroo habitat circa 1931. (Photo H. H. Finlayson, from MAGNT Finlayson collection).

Right: Painting of live desert rat kangaroos from John Gould’s Mammals of Australia (image in the public domain).