Australia's severe droughts driving platypuses towards extinction, study finds

James Marshall
January 22, 2020

New research suggests that the iconic Australian platypus is at risk of extinction because of threats including climate change and human-related habitat loss.

Researchers forecast that the total platypus population will be halved by 2070 under current climate and development conditions.

Some reasons behind the predicted extinction of the animals are pollution, land-clearing, and climate change - particularly an increase in the number of droughts, according to the report.

"These dangers further expose the platypus to even worse local extinctions without the ability to repopulate areas", Gilad Bino, a researcher at the Center for Ecosystem Science at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), said in a statement.

That path began more than 200 years ago, thanks to Europeans arriving in the country and hunting them for their pelts, and has continued ever since.

Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark, who was not involved in the research, said that-based on his experience-platypus numbers appear to be dropping dramatically, especially given the recent drought.

Seven platypus have been saved from certain death after they were rescued from dwindling waterways that were weeks away from completely drying up.

Alarmingly, the study estimates that platypus populations have been wiped out entirely in 40 per cent of their previous habitat. Platypus looks unique, too, because it has an invoice of a duck, tail of a beaver, ft of an otter, and a venomous spur on its hind leg.

But the platypus remains unlisted in most jurisdictions in Australia - except South Australia, where it is endangered.

Platypuses are classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as "almost threatened", but many authorities in Australia have not included the platypus on any list, except in the state of South Australia, which has classified it as a species in danger of extinction.

'We should learn from the peril facing the koala to understand what happens when we ignore the warning signs, ' he said. The Australia Koala Foundation conservation group claimed past year that the animals are now "functionally extinct", with only 80,000 remaining in the wild, but this assertion has been widely disputed.

"Maintaining healthy and connected platypus populations, between catchments, along the eastern flowing rivers of Australia and Tasmania must be a priority for the species". They are recognised as an "in decline" species with the continuing decline in subpopulations, once of which is located on Kangaroo Island, which was recently razed by severe bushfires.

The scientists said there is an "urgent need" for a national risk assessment to determine if the platypus should be downgraded to "vulnerable" status and to lay out conservation steps "to minimise any risk of extinction". These include dams that stop their movements, fishing gear that can drown them and invasive foxes, which kill them.

Their findings, published in the journal Biological Conservation, show several threats platypus are facing, including habit destruction and issues associated with climate change.

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