Native species under threat as new research finds platypus populations could disappear ‘without ever returning’ – ABC

By November 24, 2020 January 25th, 2021 Archive

By national environment, science and technology reporter Michael Slezak

Posted 23 Nov 2020 at 11:19am

New research finds the platypus meets the criteria to be listed as a threatened species.(ABC Open Contributor Simone_law)

The platypus has lost 22 per cent of its habitat in just 30 years, leaving it likely to meet the criteria for threatened species, according to research led by the University of New South Wales and commissioned by a coalition of conservation groups.

Key points:

  • Dams, land clearing and introduced predators are among the biggest threats
  • One of the lead authors of the study says platypuses may disappear from rivers “without ever returning”
  • The news comes as the Federal Government commits $18 million to koala conservation

The research compiled all the available data on platypus sightings from a range of sources.

It found the decline was worst in areas like the Murray-Darling Basin where natural river systems have been modified by humans.

Dams, over-extraction, land clearing, pollution and predation by feral dogs and foxes were among the main threats, which together could have caused half of all platypuses to disappear, according to the researchers.

“There is a real concern that platypus populations will disappear from some of our rivers without returning, if rivers keep degrading with droughts and dams,” said UNSW’s Richard Kingsford, one of the lead authors of the report.

“We have a national and international responsibility to look after this unique animal, and the signs are not good.

“Platypuses are declining and we need to do something about threats to the species before it is too late.”

The egg-laying mammal’s range has been most dramatically slashed in NSW, where 32 per cent of its habitat has disappeared.

Queensland has lost 27 per cent of its platypus habitat while Victoria has lost just 7 per cent.

The research was commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).

The ACF, WWF-Australia and the Humane Society International have now officially nominated the platypus as threatened under both federal and NSW environment laws.

The nomination will now be reviewed before a decision is made on whether the species will be listed.

“While our national environmental laws should be much stronger, listing the platypus as a threatened species is a critical first step towards conserving this iconic Australian species and putting it on a path to recovery,” said Dr Paul Sinclair from the Australian Conservation Foundation.

The platypus is already listed as “near threatened” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

It is listed as “endangered” in South Australia and has recently been recommended to be listed as “vulnerable” in Victoria.

$18m package for ‘vulnerable’ koalas

The Federal Government will fund a census to track koala populations.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Koala populations in Queensland, NSW and the ACT are already listed as vulnerable under federal environment law — a move that has helped devote some resources to their protection.

Today, federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley announced a range of measures to help protect koalas, in an $18 million package.

Among the measures is a “census” that will establish an annual monitoring program to determine where koalas are, and how well they are doing.

“For all our focus on koalas, scientists are telling us that there is a serious lack of data about where populations actually are, how they are faring and the best ways to help them recover after the devastating bushfires,” Ms Ley said.

The package also includes funding for koala health research, and the restoration of some habitat sites through revegetation, weed control, fencing, managed grazing and tailored fire planning.

Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box said the package was important following the devastating bushfires which killed and injured thousands of koalas.

“Today’s announcement will support the conservation community to respond to the devastating 2019-20 summer bushfire season which impacted important habitat for koalas and other threatened species right across Australia,” she said.