Threatened Species Day: a time to reflect on our unique Australian wildlife

Today is National Threatened Species Day, a time to celebrate our wonderful and unique Australian wildlife that, for many reasons, are not doing so well. Australia doesn’t have a great record when it comes to our wildlife; in the last 200 years three quarters of all mammal extinctions have occurred in Australia. For the numerically-minded, that is 30 species. 

Thirty mammal species that will never be seen again on this planet. EVER.

Even more staggering is that we have over 400 species of animals that are currently listed as threatened under our Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999. For many of these species, hope of recovery is unfortunately dwindling fast, due to the continued loss of habitat, onslaught of invasive predators and competitors, disease, and climate change. Some believe that we are on the cusp of one of the largest mass extinctions in history. Not a great legacy to leave our children. 

But there are good news stories in conservation and on Threatened Species Day, we want to focus on these. One of cesar’s proudest achievements to date has been preventing the extinction of the mountain pygmy-possum in the Australian alpine region. cesar led a research team that undertook the first genetic rescue program in the wild in Australia for the Mt Buller mountain pygmy possum in 2010. That population, which was down to less than ten individuals in 2008, is now thriving, with estimates in excess of 200 individuals in early 2017. This fight, however, is still not over, and we work closely with our partners to continue the recovery process. Fighting to save OUR species takes time. 

The success of this program has allowed us and our partners to implement similar genetic-based programs, such as gene pool mixing, in other threatened species including the Victorian eastern barred bandicoot, the southern brush-tailed rock-wallaby, the dwarf galaxias, and the Yarra pygmy perch. Some of these programs will take time, but we believe that we can make a difference. That’s because all programs have been built off the back of strong recovery models, which have included the identification and removal of threats. Our genetic strategies are about improving population fitness and adaptive potential. However, these will amount to nothing if we don’t identify and remove threats. Unfortunately, this is where many recovery programs fail.

Preventing the extinction of our unique and wonderful Australian fauna is at the heart of what we do at cesar. But we could still be doing more and we will. On Threatened Species Day we ask that you also consider what you can do.

Cover image: Photo by Andrew Weeks, Cesar Australia

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