A joint effort between the University of Melbourne and Queensland Museum, the palaeontological dig has unearthed fossils of two new extinct Australian megafaunas. The two species, a 2.5- metre, 274kg kangaroo and 6-metre lizard, are estimated to have lived in the northern parts of Australia 40 000 years ago.
The mammoth marsupial is officially the largest kangaroo of all time, says Scott Hocknull, paleontologist with the Queensland Museum and honorary faculty member at the University of Melbourne.
“While the rest of the world had giant carnivores like sabre-toothed cats, bears, and hyenas, Australia’s predators were mostly giant reptiles, including an extinct freshwater croc around seven meters long, a relation to the modern saltwater crocodile, and a land-dwelling crocodile,” he said on the university website.
“There were also two giant lizards including a six-meter-long lizard called Megalania and another giant lizard, similar in size to the Komodo dragon,” he added.
The dig is located at South Walker Creek near Mackay, Queensland, where extreme environmental changes caused the species’ downfall.
“The megafauna at South Walker Creek were uniquely tropical, dominated by huge reptilian carnivores and mega-herbivores that went extinct around 40,000 years ago, well after humans arrived onto mainland Australia,” says Hocknull.
“We cannot place humans at this 40,000-year-old crime scene, we have no firm evidence. Therefore, we find no role for humans in the extinction of these species of megafauna.
“Instead, we do find that their extinction is coincident with major climatic and environmental deterioration both locally and regionally, including increased fire, reduction in grasslands, and loss of freshwater. Together, these sustained changes were simply too much for the largest of Australia’s animals to cope with.”
“The Board of Directors from the Barada Barna Aboriginal Corporation are extremely excited that we have found the megafauna within our traditional country,” a Barada Barna Aboriginal Corporation spokesperson said.
“The Barada Barna people have an immensely proud history dating back to our first encounters with Ludwig Leichhardt in 1845 on the banks of Cherwell Creek and having discovered megafauna only enriches our history within this region.
“The team that discovered these finds back in 2008 had no idea of how great a discovery it was, with the help of Queensland Museum we have discovered more and more animals from that time.”