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5 threatened and endangered species in Australia
Some of the rarest animals in the world are vulnerable, but plans are in place to save them
Australia is home to nearly one million animal species, including 80 percent of the world’s mammals and 90 percent of its reptiles.
It’s also the country with the highest number of endangered animal species in the world, according to the International Union of Conservations of Nature. But in 2011, rare and unique animals are perceived as a treasure –- and although many lobby groups are worried that not enough is being done, there are positive plans in place to save species.
Here are five of Australia’s cutest endangered species -- but there are many more -- and what’s being done to prevent them going the way of the dodo.
1. Green and Golden Bell Frog
The Green and Golden Bell Frog (Litoria aurea) became the focus of national attention when a small population was found at the proposed site for the tennis courts of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Tinted green and gold like Australia’s national sporting colors, suddenly the frog became an important national symbol. The tennis courts were built elsewhere and the ground-dwelling amphibians were allowed to go about their business. An elevated circular walkway was even built around the colony, called “Brickpit”, so people could learn more about the frogs and listen to their calls.
More colonies have since been expanded around Sydney, with “frog corridors” linking wetlands.
They are still listed as nationally vulnerable and as an endangered species in New South Wales, but the Department of Environment and Climate Change says repopulation efforts at the site are going swimmingly.
Things are still touch-and-go for the Green and Golden Bell Frog, according to Andrew Hammer of Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology. “There are relic populations along the NSW coast but the prognosis is not good,” he says. “There have been hit hard by urbanization and continue to threatened by continued industrial expansion that destroys wetlands and areas around wetlands.”
2. Northern Quoll
The Northern Quoll (sasyurus hallucatus), also known as the Northern Native Cat, is the smallest of four native Australian quoll species. A carnivorous marsupial that resembles a possum with large white spots, it is remarkable in that the male dies after mating, leaving females to raise youngsters on their own.
Once found north of Brisbane and right across the Continent to the Western Australian coastline, the Quoll is now listed as endangered, reduced to small pockets in the Northern Territory, Cape York and the Kimberley and Pilbara regions.
The prime culprit is the cane toad, introduced to Australia in 1935 to rid the nation’s then-vital sugar cane industry of the cactoblastis beetle. Not only do toads compete with the quoll for food and shelter, but also they posthumously eradicate the cats via poisonous glands that are fatal to native species that eat them.
To help stem the tide, a University of Sydney project is trying to teach quolls to avoid eating toads. “We offer the quolls a small toad that we’ve infused with a chemical that induces nausea. So the next time they smell or taste a toad, they associate it with illness and reject it,” says research fellow Jonathan Webb.
“We have reintroduced 50 toad-trained quolls to Kakadu, where they are almost wiped out, and after two years 20 of them are still there –- and reproducing. We’re optimistic this approach is working.”
With the exception of the kangaroo, there is no more iconic Antipodean than the tree-dwelling koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). But the koala was hunted for to near extinction in the early 1900s, with more than a million killed for the fur trade. Public outcry over koala genocide gave birth to Australia’s powerful conservation movement, though it was too little too late to save South Australia’s koala population.
But in recent years, many koalas have been migrated to colonies such as Kangaroo Island, and then re-migrated to the mainland.
In NSW and southeast Queensland, the koala is vulnerable in some areas, with habitat destruction through logging identified as the primary culprit by the Australia Koala Foundation (AKF).
“At the recent Senate Inquiry into the 'Status, Health and Population of the Australian Koala', we made it clear that there are only 50,000 to 85,000 koalas left in the wild,” says the AKF’s Debra Tabart. “This inquiry is the biggest light in the tunnel I have seen in 25 years in that not one single expert said the koala was safe.”
“The Australian people who love koalas are doing everything they can to save them,” she says. “But without legislative protection, there is no feel-good news to report at this moment.”
4. Tasmanian Devil
The Tasmanian Devil appeared in only five Looney Tunes cartoons before Warner Bros axed its animation department in 1964. In a case of life imitating art, the real Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) –- a carnivorous marsupial the size of a small dog but with an enlarged head and neck that give it the most powerful bite per unit of body mass of any living mammal -– is also facing extinction.
Protected from hunters since 1941, its nemesis lies in its genes –- a fatal cancer known as Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTF) characterized by the appearance of gruesome tumors that build up around the mouth, prevent feeding and over time, cause devils starve to death. One of only three known transmissible cancers, DFTP has laid waste to between 50 and 90 percent of the adult Tasmanian Devil populations.
Conservation efforts include removing and culling diseased devils from wild populations.
Also, the creation of an "insurance population" by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program. Initially kept in quarantine enclosures in the island state, insured devils have now been dispatched to zoos and wildlife parks in mainland Australia to ensure a healthy population of devils remains free of risk of infection.
“We are continuing to make positive progress in terms of saving the species,” says program manager Andrew Sharman. “The insurance population now has over 300 devils and is likely to reach 450 by the end of this year.”
5. Hairy-nosed Wombat
One of three species of wombats –- a short, fat, ground-dwelling marsupial that shares its ancestors with the koala and kangaroo –- is the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii), or Yaminon. It is critically endangered.
Once found across eastern Australia, the Yaminon has been reduced to two tiny populations residing within the Epping Forest National Park and the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge, both in Queensland.
It’s near-extinction is attributed to the clearing by grazers of the coarse, native roots and grasses it likes to eat, and dingos -– wild dogs that have taken a fancy to picking off the 138 or so known Yaminons that remain in the wild.
The Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat Recovery Plan has seen the building of a dingo-proof fence by volunteer caretakers at Epping and the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge, as well as round-the-clock weed clearing. And it seems to be working.
Last April, it was confirmed two female Yaminons were carrying joeys in their pouches. “The birth of one of our endangered animals is always good news,” said the then Queensland Environment Minister, Kate Jones. “But two babies in less than one month is more than we could have hoped for.”