What's in a name? For this little rat, possibly rescue from extinction

The greater stick nest rat has teetered on the brink of extinction - and no one but a few dedicated souls seems ready to save the furry little rodent.

Is it because of its name? Specifically, one word in its name? Rat?

That's the question raised by the manager of an extraordinary zoological collection of both extinct and surviving species. Jack Ashby is a Londoner obsessed with Australian mammals and determined to stop more of this country's unique fauna going the way of the Tasmanian Tiger.

Manager of the University College of London's Grant Museum of Zoology, Mr Ashby was in Australia recently for a project called Arid Recovery which is trying to bring back four species of Australian mammals from the edge of extinction.

Of those, the burrowing bettong, western barred bandicoot and greater stick nest rat were all wiped out from the mainland before being reintroduced from surviving colonies on offshore islands to a 123-kilometre square fenced reserve in South Australia.

The bilby is another species for which this cat and fox proof area is among the last of refuges.

General manager Katherine Tuft says Arid Recovery was experimenting with controlled exposure to cats - and soon the native western quolls as well - in the hope of training the endangered animals "not to get eaten". She hopes that one day they might coexist with introduced predators beyond the protective walls of their enclosures.

But despite it being in arguably the worst predicament of the four, one of those species is also the least likely to attract the money required to prevent its extinction.

"It's certainly much harder to secure funding for the stick nest rat than it is for the bilby," Ms Tuft said.

The centre "adopts" its animals to the public to help fund their survival.

The bilby sells, she says. The rat doesn't.

But the ecologist said it's not just a dilemma for her "stickies" - cryptic little creatures which build stick castles using highly-concentrated urine as cement.

The "funky rodents" of northern Australia - golden-backed tree rats, black-footed tree rats and brush-tailed rabbit rats - are all "in strife". Along the east coast, heath and smoky mice are disappearing. But few care.

"And if they didn't have 'mouse' or 'rat' in name their names, then yes, things would be different," Ms Tuft says.

"It you compare the amount of money spent on koala conservation, for example, to how much was spent on rodents, you see pretty enormous disparities - and I'm sure that makes a difference for the outcome of those species."

This story What's in a name? For this little rat, possibly rescue from extinction first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.