The Department of Environment and Energy Australia has listed 223 endangered and critically endangered animal species in Australia.
Endangered Species of Australia
The Conversation defines critically endangered as:
“The highest threat level that can be assigned to a wild species. These species are either facing an extremely high risk of extinction, or have numbers which decreased (or will) by 80% within three generations.”
The Leadbeater’s possum and northern hairy-nosed wombat are classified as a part of the 20 critically endangered species in Australia. To combat species extinction for these animals, we have provided information on how to protect these animals and what strategies are currently being implemented.
The Leadbeater’s Possum
The Leadbeater’s possum is critically endangered and has a decreasing population. This possum can only be found in Victoria, Australia and inhabits extremely limited areas. Almost exclusively living in the Central Highlands of Victoria, the Leadbeater calls tall forests its home, denning and building its nest in stags within Mountain ash, Alpine ash and Shining gum trees. These mammals are characterised by their tiny size, extremely long tail, big eyes and ability to camouflage well.
What is pushing the Leadbeater possum to extinction?
There are three main contributing factors that have led to decreasing numbers of Leadbeater possums; namely loss of suitable habitat, loss of hollow-bearing trees and natural disasters such as drought and bushfires.
The Black Saturday Bushfire in 2009 in the Central Highlands destroyed around 45% of the Leadbeater’s possum habitat and halved the wild population to an estimated 1200. Leadbeater possums are extremely particular when it comes to finding a suitable tree to den in and the trees with large enough stags are usually between 150-200 years old. They also require a habitat which has a dense understory to provide safety for the marsupial to be able to forage for food and bark without being preyed on by owls. With a 45% loss of habitat in 2009, the fires had a devastating impact on Leadbeater possum populations.
Logging of Mountain ash forest for paper production has also contributed to the fragmentation of suitable habitat. Additionally, timber harvesting has caused isolation between colonies of Leadbeater possums limiting breeding opportunities.
What initiatives are in place?
Over the past ten years, the population of the Leadbeater possum’s in Yellingbo have dropped from 110 possums to around 60 due to habitat loss. In 2012 Healesville Sanctuary commenced a new captive breeding program for Leadbeater Possums from the Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve (NCR). The program will act as an insurance population with the end goal being able to release the possums back into the wild.
In 2012 Healesville Sanctuary commenced a new captive breeding program for Leadbeater Possums from the Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve (NCR). The program will act as an insurance population with the end goal being able to release the possums back into the wild. As of 2015, the population estimate at Yellingbo is 48 individuals, made up of ten different family groups. Since 2003, fifteen groups have been lost due to the decline in vegetation in the reserve.
To rectify this issue, Parks Victoria is working with Melbourne Water and landowners within the proposed Yellingbo Conservation Area to fence off stream frontages and phase out livestock grazing. These proposed actions will improve the habitat for the Leadbeater’s Possum by protecting native vegetation.
How can you help?
♣ Buy only 100% recycled paper products or those with FSC logo on them. Doing this will help conserve forests for the Leadbeater Possums and native animals.
♣ Volunteer with Friends of the Leadbeater Possum at an annual tree planting day at Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve. Re-vegetating native habitat is essential for the species survival.
The Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat
The Northern hairy-hosed wombat is the largest species of wombat weighing up to 40kg and growing up to one metre long. This species inhabits central Queensland in a confined area of the Epping Forest National Park.
Northern hairy-nosed wombats are burrow-dwelling, nocturnal mammals characterised by their short muscular legs and vegetarian diet, they are the closest relative to the Koala. It was estimated in September 2013, that there was only a population of 196 northern hairy-nosed wombats living in the Epping Forest National Park, with a second population developing in Richard Underwood Nature Refuge.
Why is there only a small wisdom* of wombats left?
*A group of wombats is called a wisdom.
On average Northern Hairy-Nosed wombats have a lifespan of 20 years and start breeding from the age of three. Females typically give birth only every two years usually between November and April to one joey at a time. The gestational period for a northern hairy-nosed wombat is only 22 days, however, the joey stays inside its mother’s pouch for six months but remains with its mother for up 18 months. The joey’s dependence on its mother prevents her from mating regularly.
A small population size is recognised as a threat towards the Northern hairy-nosed wombats as they are more susceptible to local catastrophes (flood, fire, disease) and loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding, than larger populations.
Competition for food from other introduced species such as cattle, sheep, rabbits as well predation by wild cats and dogs has posed a huge threat to the species. Only leaving their safe, climate controlled burrows to eat grasses and vegetation, these mammals only roam a small radius from their burrow. If a wombats’ habitat has been overgrazed or has fallen victim to drought or fire reducing vegetation, the wombats will starve to death.
What’s being done?
A predator-proof fence was built in 2002 around the Northern hairy-nosed wombats habitat in the Epping National Park. The fence has successfully prevented attacks on the wombats from wild animals, allowing the population to slowly begin stabilising.
A second population is being established at the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge, to act as insurance population in case disease or natural disaster affects the population at Epping National Park.
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