The Banded hare-wallaby is a gray-furred marsupial that lives in the Australian islands. Discovered in 1897, it belongs to the Macropodidae family and is the sole survivor of a group numbering at least 20 ‘short faced kangaroos’ from the subfamily Sthenurinae, once living throughout Australia. The distinctive transverse dark stripes on its lower back, for which it gets its common name, resulted in the original (1699) erroneous description of this wallaby being ‘a sort of raccoon’. This animal is unique today, as it is regarded as the sole surviving animal in a group that once was comprised of giant browsing kangaroos.
Formerly found throughout south-western Australia, the Banded hare-wallaby occurs now only on the islands in Shark Bay of Dorre and Bernier, 50 to 60 kilometers off the coast of Western Australia, the last recorded sighting on the mainland being in 1906. A small population was introduced to Faure Island. On these islands, the wallaby lives in woodlands of thick, dense shrubs, typically those dominated by the thorny Acacia scrub, needing these dense areas of vegetation for shelter.
This species is sociable, unlike other hare-wallabies, and will often congregate in small groups. Being nocturnal, in the daytime, these groups take shelter in ‘runs’ beneath dense scrub, and come out only at night to eat, usually in open areas of scattered shelter. Although the adults of each gender appear to live within their own well-defined home ranges, relations between female adults and between adults and juveniles do not seem to be aggressive. On the other hand, interactions between males are notable for a high amount of aggression, competition for food seeming to be the reason for the intensity of fighting. This species uses its keen vision and its senses of hearing, smell, and touch, and to perceive their environment. Their methods of communication with each other are not well understood, but they probably use both visual and chemical cues.
The mating system of these animals is not well known. Breeding is seasonal, starting in the summer, with a peak in autumn, though the seasons are extended, sometimes occurring from February through August. The period of gestation appears to be several months, and usually one offspring is born, though sometimes there are two. The joeys are in their mother’s pouch for at least six months, being weaned about three months later. As with other species of kangaroo, a mother can delay the fertilized egg’s development (called ‘embryonic diapause’) while there is a joey in her pouch. The embryo gets ‘reactivated’ if the joey in the pouch dies, or when it is almost ready to leave the pouch. Maturity is reached at one year old but breeding does not usually occur until the second year.
The Banded hare-wallaby’s disappearance from the Australian mainland is considered to be the result of clearing vegetation for agriculture, predation from cats and other introduced predators, and competition for food with the introduced species of sheep and rabbits. Although this caused a dramatic decline of the Banded hare-wallaby population on the mainland, causing them to be extinct there, the populations on the uninhabited islands of Bernier and Dorre remain relatively secure.
The IUCN Red List and other sources do not provide the exact number of the Banded hare-wallaby total population, but it was estimated to be between 2,000 and 9,000 mature individuals. According to the IUCN Red List resource, recent surveys have estimated the number of individuals on Bernier Island as 1,807, and 2,294 on Dorre Island. 57 adults (plus 21 young in the pouch) have been introduced on Faure Island, however the size of this population today is unknown. Overall, currently Banded hare-wallabies are classified as Vulnerable (VU) and their numbers remain stable.
As herbivore, Banded hare-wallaby may impact its communities by grazing and browsing. They may also affect predator populations (red foxes, feral cats, eagles), as items of prey.