The real rat race
Thursday 11th August 2011

Taronga Zoo Bushrats

Sydneysiders sometimes feel swept up in the rat race, but there’s a real rat race coming to bushland around Sydney Harbour, when University of Sydney ecologists introduce populations of native bush rats, called Boguls, to bushland locations on 11 August 2011. The new Bogul populations will not only reinstate a native species to these areas, but also potentially reduce the populations of pest black rats as the Boguls compete for territory and resources.
 
Boguls (Rattus fuscipes) are native to Australia and were once common in Sydney, but were wiped out when Europeans settled the area. Research led by Associate Professor Peter Banks and Dr Grainne Cleary, from the University of Sydney’s School of Biological Sciences, suggests that Boguls may be able to out-compete black rats (Rattus rattus) in the race for territory.
 
“This re-introduction of Boguls in August will be the first large scale trial to see how well the Boguls can compete against pest black rats. We will give the true blue Bogul back its residence advantage by reducing black rat numbers, but that is all we can do – the rest is up to our little Aussie battler Bogul to fight for its traditional territory,” said Dr Grainne Cleary.
 
The reintroduction project is led by the University of Sydney team and supported by Taronga Zoo, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Mosman Council, Australian Wildlife Conservancy and pest control company Rentokil.
 
Research by one of Associate Professor Peter Banks’ previous PhD students on Bogul populations in bushland in Jervis Bay indicated that when black rat numbers were reduced, Boguls were able to move in from adjacent areas and establish populations. Checking these areas five years later found that the Boguls had maintained strong populations, while black rat numbers remained very low.

rat tile
> In December 2008, Taronga Zoo began the trial of a ground-breaking plan to drive the introduced Black Rat out of the north shore's leafy harbourside using a native bush rat called the Bogul. Read more here

“We’re keen to see whether the Bogul is in fact able to out-compete the black rat, as suggested by the work in Jervis Bay and another joint pilot study we conducted with Taronga Zoo in an enclosure of natural bushland at the Zoo in 2010,” explained Associate Professor Banks.
 
“The trial starting in August will take place in sixteen bushland locations from Mosman to Manly. We’ll be releasing a hundred Boguls, caught from outer Sydney bushland, into our National Park and Sydney Harbour Federation Trust test sites to measure their success in out-competing the pest black rats,” said Associate Professor Banks.

“The Boguls will be microchipped and radio tracked to chart their movements over the next eighteen months as part of the project.”

 NPWS Area Manager for Harbour North, Peter Hay said that the NPWS was very excited about the project’s potential and are hoping this could lead to further reintroductions of native animals to the Sydney Harbour National Park.
 
“NPWS is delighted to support Sydney University’s trial reintroduction of the Bogul into Sydney Harbour National Park. The task of conserving national parks and reserves for future generations is particularly challenging in urban settings such as Sydney Harbour,” Mr Hay said.
 
“To date, most natural heritage restoration programs have focused at the ecosystem scale, through measures such as bush regeneration or wide scale pest control. It is really exciting to support a project that looks to the next level in environmental restoration, the individual species of fauna, by investigating whether we can tip the balance back in favour of our native rats.  

“If this works in the context of all of the challenges Sydney Harbour faces it will provide every reason for thinking that we have a new tool for conservation management across the entire system of parks and reserves,” he said.
 
So how can Sydney residents, especially those in the Mosman and Manly areas, tell the difference between their new Bogul neighbours and the pest black rat?

Do you know how to tell the difference between a Black Rat, Native Bush Rat and the Ringtail Possum? Find out below.

Introduced Black Rat - Rattus rattus

Introduced Black Rat
Rattus rattus

Native Bush Rat - Rattus fuscipes

Native Bush Rat
Rattus fuscipes

Native Ringtail Possum - Pseudocheirus peregrinus

Native Ringtail Possum
Pseudocheirus peregrinus

Long tail in relation to body - usually body length Shorter tail Long tail used as another limb with a white tip
Agile climbers Ground dwelling Tree dwelling
Invades human disturbed areas Lives in dense forest undergrowth Lives in urban and bush land habitat
Aggressive Shy Shy
Pointy ears Round ears

 

“The most obvious difference is the length of the tail: pest black rats have tails that are much longer than their bodies, whereas Boguls have tails that are the same length as their bodies or even shorter,” said Dr Cleary.
 
“Apart from the tail length, most people find it difficult to tell the two apart. Despite the name, black rats aren’t actually black! They are a similar grey colour to Boguls, so it’s easy to mistake them. We hope local residents will take a close look to identify Boguls and help keep them safe,” explained Dr Cleary.
 
“It’d be great if local residents in the Mosman and Manly areas could help by keeping their cats indoors overnight, to give our native Boguls the best chance at success.”
 
Taronga Zoo’s Education Centre staff are also working to get local students and schools involved with many aspects of the research project and to raise community awareness for and support of the native Boguls.
 
“There’s no need for residents to fear the Boguls invading their homes: the native bush rats do as their name suggests – they stay in the bush!” said Dr Cleary.
 
“Interestingly, Mosman residents have been trying to tell the difference between Boguls and pest black rats since the 1800s! We found a research paper from 1897 written by a zoologist at the Australian Museum about his encounter in his Mosman house with what he thought were native Boguls, and including comments from other residents in Mosman, North Sydney, the Inner West and Eastern Suburbs. Unfortunately, it turns out they were looking at black rats, as noted at the end of the paper by another Fellow of the Zoological Society of London,” said Associate Professor Banks.
 
“Finally after over 100 years of this rat race, we’re doing something about it by giving the Boguls a helping hand! By re-introducing the Boguls around Sydney Harbour, which will hopefully reduce the population of black rats, there is fantastic potential to improve the entire ecosystem in the area and also possibly see the return of other native species such as bandicoots and gliders.”
 
More information on the Boguls is on the Mosman Council website.