Swimming under the sand, is the most difficult to find

If you see a northern marsupial mole, you might be surprised. Known to the First Nations peoples of Australia’s Western Desert as the kakarratul, it has no eyes and golden fur. At just four inches from nose to tail, the animal would fit in the palm of your hand. And unlike the mole species of North America, it is a marsupial.

But you probably wouldn’t see one: Although the animals are plentiful, sightings remain extremely rare because northern marsupial moles live in tunnels beneath the sand dunes, navigating them in a swimming-like motion with their front feet fin-like.

This is the hardest to find of all the animals, said Denzel Hunter, an indigenous ranger who works to study and conserve wildlife on Nyangumarta village lands. Every time we go out looking for northern marsupial moles, we find evidence that they are there. But I’ve never seen one.

Earlier this month, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa Martu rangers found a kakarratul in the Great Sandy Desert, almost 1,000 miles northeast of Perth. His photographs of the creature, which has only been seen a handful of times in the past decade, expand scientific knowledge of the species, as well as the wider desert regions that make up about a third of the land mass of Australia.

The finding also highlights the value of the 60 wilderness ranger groups that oversee much of Australia’s national system of protected areas.

Once you start digging into the details of this country with the people who know it best, you start to really appreciate the place, said Gareth Catt, who as program director for the Indigenous Desert Alliance has worked extensively with ranger It is the indigenous rangers who have this lasting connection and are best placed to understand and care for this country.

Much of what we now know about the northern marsupial mole comes from rangers.

Lynette Wildridge, also a Nyangumarta keeper, described the species as cute and fluffy. But in his decade of work, he has only seen the animal once.

Marsupial moles live in sand, near the top of sand dunes, he said. They like it there because, underneath, the sand is wet, so it keeps them cool when the surface is hot during the day, summer temperatures can reach 122 degrees Fahrenheit, and warm when it’s cold at night.

Blind, but with a strong sense of smell, moles are actually afraid of predators, such as dingoes, and birds of prey, he adds. That’s why they live underground.

It’s what makes them a great Australian animal, said Mr. Catt of northern marsupial moles. It is the combination of them looking unusual, having unusual lifestyles and being little known. They really capture the imagination.

The success of ranger programs and the prospect of finding more marsupial moles depends on a multigenerational approach.

When I was little, my grandparents took me to the countryside and taught us about plants and animals. They knew the country well and showed us everything, said Ms. Wildridge, who introduces school children to the work of rangers. Now it’s our turn to pass it on.

Every time a northern marsupial mole is found, this task becomes easier. After the most recent find, Zan King, executive director of Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa Martu rangers, described the excitement it caused among rangers.

They all want to go home to tell their families and show the photos to the young children, because we have a lot of junior rangers who want to be rangers when they grow up, he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

These discoveries also inspire rangers like Ms. Wildridge to continue his research.

We just have to keep digging, he said.

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Image Source : www.nytimes.com

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