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Platypus extinction looms unless urgent action is taken, UNSW study finds

Wiriya Sati and Bridget Fitzgerald, Tuesday January 21, 2020 - 09:34 EDT
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Two platypuses were found dead in dried up creeks in the Upper Hunter catchment area by Aussie Ark conservation organisation. - ABC

Australia's iconic platypus is on the brink of extinction, according to a new study by the University of New South Wales.

Platypuses have been found dead in dried up creeks in NSW due to drought and human activity such as damming and water harvesting, threats from feral species in national parks, and the impacts of livestock.

The lead author of the UNSW study, Gilad Bino, said action must be taken now to prevent the platypus from disappearing from our waterways.

"There is an urgent need for a national risk assessment for the platypus to assess its conservation status," Dr Bino said.

"[We must] evaluate risks and impacts and prioritise management in order to minimise any risk of extinction."

A spokesperson for Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the platypus is not currently listed as threatened under national environmental law.

Disappearing in the 'cesspit'

Conservation organisation Aussie Ark has witnessed a significant drop in platypus number in the Greater Barrington region of New South Wales.

Aussie Ark president Tim Faulkner says the drought has had the biggest impact on the animals.

"In our region, they're all dead, they're gone — I can't find them," he said.

"They don't go into hibernation.

"They must have water to feed in."

Mr Faulkner said many of the burrows had either dried up or been filled with silt, and the remaining holes are damaged inside and outside national parks by the wild horses, pigs, and livestock that use the waterholes.

He said water management needed to be improved to help protect the platypus.

"Private landholder management, the management of riparian zones along creeks, water harvest as well as control on stock trampling [are all required]," Mr Faulkner said.

"And going to the toilet in the last fragments of water [must also be controlled].

"Our own parks are full of pests like the feral fox and cats responsible for over 90 per cent of all mainland mammal extinction.

"Australia has the worst mammal extinction rates on earth.

"The platypus that we did rescue, we had two die the next day.

"Their bellies are empty and they're all riddled with E. coli and a greater diversity of bacteria than that.

"Platypus are a Gondwanan dinosaur species — they are monotremes, egg-laying mammals, some of the oldest lineages of mammals on earth.

"They've been in this constant east coast temperate environment, largely unchanged, for millions of years.

"To see it now … a cesspit that's bacteria ridden and lifeless … certainly in our area — and this must be so wide spread — they're gone."

Climate change accelerating demise

Professor Richard Kingsford, who co-authored the study, said climate change was exacerbating the problem.

He said there was a need for national action to minimise risk of the platypus vanishing dues to habitat destruction.

"We may have lost 40 per cent of platypus numbers and that is only going to get worse with the impacts of climate change over the next fifty odd years," Dr Kingsford said.

"This animal is one of the most amazing animals that we have on the planet and it would be a very sad day if we were ever in the position of losing them.

"I'm very much hopeful that we'll never get there, but we do need to address it urgently."


© ABC 2020

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