Are We in Danger of Losing the Platypus?

Localised extinction could mean the end for our furry friend

One of the most unusual animals on the planet is in danger of becoming extinct. Platypus are predominantly found along the Great Dividing Range across eastern Australia, but recently researchers have noticed a decline in the iconic animal’s numbers. Little is known of the platypus as they are an elusive nocturnal animal that lives around river systems and deep pools.

Professor Richard Kingsford, Director of the Centre of Ecosystem Science at the University of NSW says that because the platypus is rarely seen, most information is gathered from evidence left behind.

One of the big challenges we've realised is that even though you see platypuses in a lot of places all around Australia, you never see a lot of them, and we're beginning to get some concerning signs in rivers that they're not there anymore. They're threatened by land clearing and dams ... they're very difficult to work on and that's part of the challenge.

Researchers from the Australian Platypus Conservancy found that platypus in the Wimmara area, that used to have a population of 200 in the mid-1990s were all now extinct. Jeff Williams, biologist from the Conservancy explains:

"The problems with many of these populations is death by a thousand cuts, there are quite a large number of platypuses being entangled in litter, particularly discarded fishing line, and die an unpleasant death ... and animals dying in illegally placed fishing traps, particularly yabby traps. Only last week in Victoria there was an incident where five platypuses were found drowned in traps."

A zoo keeper cradles rare twin Platypus babies known as Puggles.

Photo by Jason Edwards, National Geographic

How can we help the Platypus?

The best way to ensure the safety of the platypus is to keep an eye o n their water systems. Platypuses need enough water to survive. Many rivers are attached to dams, making the flow of the water “unnatural” for the animal.

"In many cases with the release of water, it doesn't take into consideration what platypuses need," Mr Williams said.

One of the key issues that will be looked at in a management sense is ensuring we develop a proper environmental flow policy for our rivers so we don't do silly things that are basically killing off platypuses.

To encourage platypus survival, connectivity in-between rivers needs to improve. This will allow platypuses to spread and avoid the risk of incest.

The “best platypus minds” were brought together at Taronga Zoo to assess the potential risks and agree on a suitable conservation plan for the species.

"I've handled thousands of platypuses in my career and I never get tired of seeing them," Mr Williams said.

Every time I see that bill on a platypus's face it just makes me smile.

Header: National Geographic

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