is reprinted from Thylacinus Vol. 12 No.
1 1987 and is used with kind permission of the
Australasian Society of Zoo Keepers. (Thylacinus
is the quarterly journal published by the
at the 1986 A.S.Z.K. Conference who traveled to
Healesville Sanctuary may remember this
presentation by Gary Slater, the
Sanctuary’s Keeper in Charge of the Nocturnal
Section. Described in 1980, the Long-footed
Potoroo is an important addition to Victoria’s
In June 1967, a female Potoroo with early
pouch young was caught in a dog trap near Bonang
in East Gippsland, Victoria, but died soon after
capture due to injuries inflicted by the trap.
The following year and adult Potoroo was found
dead on the Princes Highway near Bellbird, also
in East Gippsland. At the time it was suspected
that both animals were a distinct species from
the Long-nosed Potoroo, Potorous tridactylus.
Attempts to trap live specimens at both
sites proved unsuccessful for ten years until
April 1978 when two animals, an adult female and
a slightly younger male, were trapped at the
Bellbird site. This was followed six months
later by the capture of two adult females also
at the Bellbird site. All animals were held for
study and examination by the Fisheries and
Wildlife Division’s Senior Research Officer, J.H.
Seebeck who, together with P.G. Johnston of
Macquarie University, described in 1980 the
captured specimens as a new species - the Long-
footed Potoroo, Potorous longipes
(Seebeck and Johnston, 1980). The road kill
specimen was lodged with the Museum of Victoria
as the nominated holotype (permanent reference
for the species). The male and female trapped in
1978 were nominated as paratypes (other
specimens of the species for permanent
Of these two animals, the female was retained by
the Fisheries and Wildlife Service for further
study, while the male and females subsequently
captured were transferred to Healesville
Sanctuary’s Small Mammal Breeding Pens to start
a breeding program. The female paratype was
incorporated into the program in 1981.
Distribution and Habitat
geographic range of Potorous longipes
delineated as yet. Both species of Potorous
have been trapped within l0krns of each
other (fig.1), and broad scale vegetation
mapping of the area does not show any
disjunction between sites, which suggests that
their range could be sympatric (Seebeck and
Johnston, 1980). Bonang and Bellbird have an
average rainfall of 1100mm - 1200mm. per year.
These sites contain open forests with a
mixture of Eucalypt species and a dense
under-story of schlerophylous shrubs. A dense
layer of wire grass, ferns and sedges forms the
Bellbird is 150m above sea level and is subject
to frosts during the winter months. Bonang is
600m above sea level and has frequent
snowfalls during winter.
Locality and distribution of P.
longipes and P. tridactylus
in east Gippsland. Vic. (from Seebeck
and Johnston, 1980)
It was confirmed that the species was
distinct from P. tridactylus when the
first two specimens trapped were karyotyped and
were shown to have 24 chromosomes in both
sexes in comparison to P. tridactylus
which has 12 in the female and 13 in the male
(Seebeck and Johnston, 1350). These species
also differ in their cranial morphology (fig.2)
and electrophoretic properties.
needs to look, as the name refers, at the
animal’s hind foot which is longer in
measurement than the head and proportionally
longer than in other species (Seebeck, 1983).
Another easily discernable feature is its larger
size, which is 15% heavier than the largest
P. tridactylus recorded and 100% than any
recorded in Victoria. The tail commensurate with
body size is much thicker.
Composite drawing (dorsal view) of
skulls of P. tridactylus apicalis
(on left NMV No. C6177) and P.
longipes sp. nov (on right:
holotype) (from Seebeck and Johnston
Healesville Sanctuary’s Small Mammal
Breeding Pens are a steel tube-framed
construction covered in 10mm X 25mm weldmesh.
An 800mm tin panel at ground level surrounds
each of the 23 pens. This forms a visual barrier
to occupants in adjoining pens. A service
corridor runs the length of the construction
with pens in varying sizes from 3m X 12m, 4m X
l0m and 3m X l0m on each side. Entry is gained
by a standard sized ply door. The walls
adjoining the corridor are clad in A.C. sheeting
to offer the animals’ greater privacy. A small
weldmesh viewing panel is available for
observations. During summer, shade cloth is
placed over half the enclosure for sun
protection and on days of excessive heat,
overhead sprinklers are used intermittently.
Heat is provided during winter months by means
of concrete heat pads.
All pens have
tussocks (Lomanodras longifolia) planted
throughout which are favoured by the animals to
dig small squats at the base. The squats are
lined by the animal with grass hay, supplied
fresh weekly, to form a nest. Only recently we
have observed, for what is believed to be the
first time, a P. longipes gather hay by
mouth then transfer it to the tail for carrying
to the nest site in the same manner as a
Brush-tailed Bettong. Each pen may contain a
number of nesting sites which would all be used
at some period during the week (pers. obs.).
Potoroos seem to be communal in captivity, with
all animals penned together sharing the same
nest where they will sit with their backs to the
tussocks and only their noses visibly protruding
from the nest.
logs and stumps are supplied and utilised by the
animal to gain a vantage point to observe its
surroundings. Where Potoroos share accommodation
with an arboreal species, such as Ground Cuscus,
the branches used can be quite large and reach
ground level. Observations have been made of
P. longipes using these branches to climb a
height of at least 1.5m with reasonable balance
and agility. They could quite feasibly escape by
climbing the wire if the pens were not enclosed
(J. Seebeck, pers. comm.). We have not housed
P. longipes with any other terrestrial
species but housing compatibility with arboreal
species such as Sugar or Squirrel Gliders,
Leadbeater’s and Ringtail Possums and Ground
Cuscus presents few problems.
Very little is known of P. longipes diet
in the wild but it is probably similar to P.
tridactylus as they both dig the same
characteristic conical pits in search of root
tubers, fungi, insects and their larvae
(Seebeck, 1983). The different articulation of
the lower jaw of P. longipes possibly
reflects some variation in diet. At Healesville,
all Potoroos are fed a basic daily allowance of
chipped apple and carrot, slices of orange and
banana, greens such as lettuce, endive or
silverbeet and a few pieces of dog chow. This is
supplemented on a daily rotational basis with
almonds, sunflower seeds, sultanas, raisins,
cheese and hard boiled egg. When in season,
additional fruits and vegetables such as corn,
sweet potato, grapes and berries are offered. An
important element to the diet is a half slice of
bread soaked in cows’ milk enriched with Vitamin
E drops and infant multivitamin drops. This
appears to be the favoured food item, so adding
any treatments required to the milk formula is
an ideal form of administration.
grass hay, macropod pellets and, a mineralised
salt block are available at all times. The diet
appears to be very fattening but we have not
encountered any problems with weight control.
Constant monitoring of animals has ensured
optimum weights of approximately 2.1kgs for
males and 1.7kgs for females (Seebeck, 1983).
have been made of P. longipes
regurgitating food and then re-eating it for no
apparent reason. There is no discernable food
items in the regurgitation and it is similar in
appearance to very loose faeces.
four specimens received were identified by means
of ear tattoos, but reading these is difficult
and subject to some confusion, metal tags have
since been adopted. These are numbered metal
bird wing tags (National Band and Tag Co.
U.S.A.) applied by pliers to a pre-punched hole
in the ear. Pre-punching a hole is preferred to
pushing the tag straight through the ear as
movement around the hole keeps the tag and ear
free of dirt and healing tissue. Juvenile
animals are usually tagged on independence.
be difficult as Potoroos are extremely agile and
can stop or change direction very quickly. A
400cm hoop net with a light hessian sack
attached is used for the capture. The animal is
then transferred to a heavier sack for handling.
Most animals are easily tractable during
restraint although excessive hair is normally
experienced (pers. obs.). This has little or no
effect on the animal.
is restricted a slight whimper when being
handled and a low ‘kiss-kiss or clicking sound
when under stress or between mother and
offspring (Seebeck, 1983). When agitated or
excited, the familiar tail swishing from side to
side as seen in, for example, the Parma Wallaby
and the Brush-tailed Bettong, can be observed.
Aggression between animals has been noted
between two males housed together even though
they still used the same nest, and a female and
offspring which was at heal. Although no
apparent reason for this aggression was
discernable, subsequent young to this female
have not encountered any problems. Two unrelated
females were paired with a single male on two
occasions but one female gained dominance over
the other and had to be separated to avoid
injury to the subordinate animal.
Potoroos have been recorded as having coccidia
and nematodes in the faeces, though no deaths
have been attributed to these.
A single male
has been put on display in the Sanctuary’s
Nocturnal House which has made closer
observation easier. However, observations are
usually restricted to a weekly stirring of
animals from nest sites to count and check the
animal’s condition. All pens are cleaned on a
daily basis and on these occasions animals are
As with most other aspects of this species,
very little is known of its breeding behaviour.
Currently we maintain 7 males and 4 females, of
which two are second generation captive bred.
This breeding success enables us to confidently
predict the continuation of the species in
captivity and so prepare the strategies which
ensure levels of inbreeding are kept to a
minimum. The longer term may see inbreeding
unavoidable as all current progeny are
descendants of the original male captured.
are present in the pouch but one young per annum
seems to be normal, with pouch life being
approximately 5 to 6 months (pers. obs.). The
oestrus cycle and length of gestation are still
four recorded births were in February, July and
September, which suggested non seasonal
breeding. However, subsequent births in mid
year, with young leaving the pouch between
November and February, indicate the earlier
pattern was probably influenced by the rotation
of the breeding male between females.
The loss of
early pouch young (fig.3) could have been due to
stress caused by frequent handling or via some
external influence such as foxes or cats.
Geniology of Long-footed Potoroo at
Healesville Sanctuary (W.C. = wild
caught, P.Y. = Pouch Young, male in
squares, female in circles, diagonal
lines = death)
we can, as was mentioned earlier, reasonably
expect the species to continue breeding at its
present rate, and thus with the influx of wild
bred animals to expand the gene pool, a secure
future looks assured.
the species is a high priority and to this end
the animals are made available for non damaging
projects such as chromosomal studies on ear
tissue sample, testing radio tracking collars,
hair sample traps and subject-specific traps for
use in field survey work.
of stock to other establishments, as breeding
allows, to prevent the possibility of disease or
other calamity decimating the colony, is
considered very desirable and we hope to do this
in the not too distant future. We are currently
readying a male and cycling female for
transferal to the Arthur Rylah Institute for
of the species in the wild seems less secure.
To date there have been no significant
conservation measures undertaken apart from
continuing survey of the areas. Forests
adjoining the known sites are subject by land
tenure to timber extraction in the near future
(Seebeck, 1983) which will make F. longipes
survival in the wild extremely precarious.
would like to thank the following Healesville
Sanctuary staff - K. Mason and J. Alexander for
observations and many useful suggestions; Dr.
David Middleton for veterinary advice; N. Morley
for editing and C. Srb for typing.
Seebeck, J.H. and P.G. Johnston (1980)
Potorous longipes (Marsupialia:
Macropodidae), a new species from Eastern
Victoria. Aust. J. Zool. 28: 119-34.
Seebeck, J.H. (1983) The Long-footed
Potoroo. In, Strahan, R. (ed.) (1983) The
Australian Museum Complete book of Australian
Mammals. Angus and Robertson, Melbourne: 183.
(1982) Threatened Wildlife in Victoria and
Issues related to its Conservation. Fisheries
and Wildlife, Victoria, Paper No. 27.
(1973) Monotremes and Marsupials: A Reference
for Zoological Institutions (Genus Potoroo).
Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington,
D.C. : 239-244.
Johnston P.G. and G.B. Sharman (1977) Studies on
population of Potoroos desitiarest (Marsupilia)
1. Morphological Variation. Aust. J. Zool.
(1979) The Status of Australian Macropodidae.
Tyler, N.J. (ed.) (1979) The Status of
Endangered Australasian Wildlife, The Royal
Zoological Society of South Australia, Adelaide:
(1979) Long-nosed Potoroo (Potorous
tridactylus), Husbandry and Management of a
Captive Colony. In, Evans, D.D. (ed.) (1982) The
management of Australian Animals in Captivity,
Zoological Board of Victoria, Melbourne.
and H. Jenkins (1982) The I.U.C.N. Mammal Red
Data Book, Part 1. I.U.C.N., Morges,