Nature & Wildlife

VOICES FOR THE EARTH Protecting the Platypus

In recent years scientists have become increasingly concerned about the mid to long-term survival of many Australian animals. While the slide towards extinction is more obvious with species such as the Koala, it is far less easy to assess with a creature as elusive as the Platypus.

The platypus has for many years been facing threats to its survival from human activities. As with many other native animals, a major threat is habitat loss. This monotreme’s dependence on freshwater river systems means that it is severely affected by over-extraction from rivers, land-clearing and urban sprawl. 

Predation is another major threat – from natural predators such as snakes, water rats, goannas and raptors as well as from introduced species such as foxes.

Climate change is already having an impact through increasing drought frequency and duration in areas of favourable platypus habitat in south eastern Australia.

A recent study by Cesar Australia, which was commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), has found that last summer’s bushfires burned a significant area of the best-remaining platypus habitat in south-eastern Australia. It estimated that as many 6350 of the monotremes may have died.

According to senior wildlife ecologist Josh Griffiths platypuses have a reasonable chance of surviving fires. While small creeks are unlikely to provide safe refuge, platypuses located near larger waterways can retreat into deep pools or into their burrows.

Some of those who survived the fires were subsequently affected by “blackwater” events.  Following heavy rain after the fires, ash and sediment was washed into streams causing mass fish kills and a shortage of food for platypus. 

Concerns about the future prospects for platypus have led to University of NSW researchers as well as the ACF, WWF-Australia and Humane Society International to call for the platypus to be listed as a ‘vulnerable’ threatened species under Federal and NSW environment legislation.

ACF’s nature program manager Basha Stasak said, “Listing the platypus as a threatened species would be an important first step towards putting this much-loved Australian on the path to recovery.”

Leonie Blain