Australia has one of the highest rates of mammal extinction in the world, and one species, once thought to be extinct, is now under threat again and is the focus of our second Black Saturday bushfire project.
The Leadbeater’s Possum is Victoria’s state faunal emblem and is endemic to Victoria. Unsighted for more than 50 years and presumed to be extinct, it was rediscovered in 1961 in the Montane Ash forests of the Victorian Central Highlands.
Currently, the Leadbeater’s Possum is listed as Endangered under both State and Commonwealth legislation, and is predicted to undergo population declines of more than 90 per cent over the next 40 years.
Tragically, after Black Saturday, forecasts are looking even more ominous for the survival of the Leadbeater’s Possum.
Population estimates of Leadbeater’s Possums pre-2009 bushfires were around 2,000 to 2,500 individuals; post-fire estimates are less than 1,000 with 40 to 50 per cent of their prime habitat destroyed in the fires.
At Lake Mountain, near Marysville, only six Leadbeater’s Possums were able to survive Black Saturday bushfires in three locations across the plateau, which was remarkable considering the high intensity of the fire in this area.
In the Central Highlands, more than 45 per cent of their known territory was destroyed by the intense fires. In the Yellingbo State Nature Reserve, in the Upper Yarra Valley, there’s at least better news, with a relatively stable population of approximately 80 Leadbeater’s Possums.
Next year, on 3 April 2011, it’s the 50th anniversary of the rediscovery of the Leadbeater’s Possum and that’s where Project Leadbeater’s Possum will help. In order to increase awareness of their plight, in conjunction with the organisation, Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum, we’ll organise a Leadbeater’s Possum Awareness Day. Not only will this campaign increase awareness of the Leadbeater’s Possum, it’s also designed to let you know how you can help save the species.
The Leadbeater’s Possum is an incredibly timid, nocturnal, small arboreal (tree dwelling), omnivorous, marsupial mammal. Its tail is almost as long as its body, on average about 15 centimetres and it has a dark stripe along the centre of its back (mid-dorsal).
The female Leadbeater’s Possum can produce up to two tiny underdeveloped joeys a litter, twice yearly. Possums live in colonies of up to 12 animals and only one pair per colony will breed. Theirs is a matriarchal society.
The Leadbeater’s Possum’s habitat has many impacts ranging from timber harvesting (including salvage logging) to prey animals to bushfire and bushfire prevention methods like fuel breaks and fuel reduction burning.
About Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum
Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum was established in 2004 to give a voice to these elusive forest animals. They aim to help Leadbeater’s survive in the wild by encouraging conservation efforts, research programs and effective conservation strategies and policies.
During the coming weeks, we’ll begin our Endangered Species series on other endangered species in the Black Saturday bushfire area. Early next year, we’ll provide more information on Project Leadbeater’s Possum and how you can help this endearing Australian mammal.
Photo from Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum