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Sunday, 22 April, 2001, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Gourmet kangaroos face extinction
Northern Bettong
The bettong is a nocturnal animal
A species of Australian kangaroo is in danger of extinction because of its taste for fine food.

Australian wildlife officials said the small northern bettong could be wiped out because it cannot get enough of its favourite food - truffles.

The unusual nature of their eating habits means the small kangaroos contribute to the ecological vitality of the rain forest which they inhabit.


Bettongs are very choosy about where they live and what they eat

Dean Wells Queensland Environment Minister
Realising their key role, Queensland's state government has backed moves to use sniffer dogs to search out truffles.

They will be fed to animals born through a programme aimed at restocking the wild with the northern bettong.

"Recent research indicated truffles may be the most critical factor in the distribution and health of the animal," said Queensland Environment Minister Dean Wells.

"Bettongs are very choosy about where they live and what they eat."

Small numbers

The northern bettong was once widespread in northern Australia. But forest clearance has reduced its numbers to small colonies in the rain forests of Queensland.

They play an important role in the ecology of the rain forest as the truffle package they live on includes indigestible spores that are spread throughout the woodland in the bettongs' droppings.

Truffles benefit trees by increasing their ability to absorb nutrients and water. In return, trees provide sugars necessary to truffle growth.

Between 30 and 70% of the Bettong's diet is composed of truffles. The animal is nocturnal and solitary. During the day it retires to a grass nest built under a tussock or grass tree.

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