Saving Leadbeater's Possum: Is this our last chance?

Recovery plan aims to prevent extinction within next 100 years

Leadbeater's possum is not only Victoria's faunal emblem (and possibly Australia's cutest one!) its endangered status was recently escalated to Critically Endangered in April 2015 under national legislation.

Until 1961 it was thought to be extinct when a chance sighting by a local naturalist, Eric Wilkinson, near Marysville, Victoria, revealed there was in fact a small colony in the area. Since then numbers have been growing very slowly and precariously due to large amounts of habitat loss following timber harvesting, loss of hollow-bearing trees and as a result of bushfire, in particular, the devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

With release of the 2015 Australia Threatened Species Strategy, the Leadbeater's possum is one of only two species named as requiring emergency conservation management. According to the report, it is estimated there are just over 3,000 specimens in the wild.

This month the Australian Government Department of the Environment launched the draft of the National Recovery Plan for Leadbeater's Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) that takes into account the fact that the availability of suitable habitat is predicted to decline over the next 40 to 50 years. It forewarns that 'actions taken or not taken now will affect its likelihood of extinction over a 50 to 100 year timeframe.'

According to the Department, 'the long term objective of the plan is to increase the extent, quality and connectivity of currently and prospectively suitable habitat, and its occupancy by Leadbeater’s possum, in order to maximise the probability of persistence of the species.'  It aims to reduce the possibility of the animal’s extinction over the next 100 years to one per cent.

‘From our experience,’ said Aaron Organ, Director of Ecology and Heritage Partners, ‘ongoing Leadbeater’s possum surveys and population monitoring are important to ensure our management actions are suitable for the persistence of the species in the future. It is essential that the final Recovery Plan takes a consistent and rigorous approach to measuring the actions taken.’

The three month consultation period has now commenced and public comment is being sought until 20 May 2016.

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Relevant link: Draft National Recovery Plan for Leadbeater's Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) and call for public submissions.

Image: Dan Harley from the Australian Government Leadbeater's Possum Action Plan

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