The real rat race

The real rat race

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.> 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 Native Bush Rat Rattus fuscipes Native Ringtail PossumPseudocheirus 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



“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



More information on the Boguls is on the Mosman Council website.