Roo hops back from `extinction'

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Scientists at the Natural History Museum in London were yesterday trying to find out more about the alleged rediscovery of Gilbert's potoroo, a rat-like kangaroo thought to have been extinct for more than a century. The only information they had w ere press reports which were incomplete.

There are three species of potoroo and several subspecies. Two subspecies, potoroo tridactylus or potoroo plaryops, seem to be the most likely candidates for the sightings last week. Neither has been seen in south-western Australia for more than 100 years. Both were believed extinct.

Potoroos inhabit dense grassland or low, thick scrub, especially in damp places. They are usually nocturnal but have been observed basking in early morning sun. They have three principal modes of locomotion: a slow ``plantigrade'' crawl, a bipedal hop and an energetic leap to escape from a dangerous situation.

John Gilbert was one of the most neglected and least known figures in Australian history. He was an explorer and naturalist who discovered many new species of mammals, reptiles and insects as well as plants, fish and land-shells.

He was an English naturalist who first visited Australia in September 1838 and worked in various regions, particularly Western Australia and the Northern Territory. However, when visiting Australia for a second time he was killed by Aborigines.