Monday, February 23, 2009

Leadbeater's Possum 

The tragic human costs of the recent (and continuing) fires here in the Victorian Ranges defy description. Understandably, the wildlife aspect of the fires appears to have been largely overlooked by the media (beyond that famous koala/firefighter picture taken during backburning). However, the consequences will have been dire for most species - for rare species like lyrebirds and tiger quolls, as well as formerly common locals, such as grey kangaroos and bobucks (mountain brushtail possums).

For one species in particular, this could well spell the end. Leadbeater's possum, faunal emblem for the state of Victoria, will have been severely impacted by the extent of the fires, given that the mapped distribution of the Leadbeater's possum exactly matches the area burnt in the Kilmore East Murrundindi Rubicon Media Map of the fires.

With apparently no current captive breeding population, overseas or locally (not at Melbourne/Healesville, Perth, Taronga or any other Zoo that I can tell), there's no answer there either. The small ray of hope is that a tiny population of this relict possum formerly survived once before - coming through the 1939 fires and being rediscovered in 1965.

Flagship species do go extinct (ie: the Baiji in China in 2006) - usually with a certain amount of warning, a long period of mismanagement and a number of setbacks. Let's hope we haven't just witnessed another one.

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