Research suggests there are around 1,500 Leadbeater’s Possums remaining on earth.
About the Leadbeater’s Possum
Leadbeater’s Possum was presumed extinct by 1960 simply because no live specimen had been seen since 1909, for over 50 years. Then, in 1961, a single possum was sighted by naturalist Eric Wilkinson at Cambarville near Marysville, 90 minutes east of Melbourne – a far cry from its original known habitat in southern Gippsland. Previously, the last captured Leadbeater’s Possum was from 1909. Since it’s rediscovery, a great deal of interest, research and awareness has been raised by Victoria’s zoos, biologists, community groups and citizens. In 1968 it was made the official faunal emblem of Victoria.
Also known as Fairy Possum, the Leadbeater’s Possum is a tiny, nocturnal creature with large eyes and a long tail measuring around 10 to 15cm in length. It requires old growth eucalypt trees with established hollows for its home. As a result it is now located in small pockets of old growth Mountain Ash forest in Victoria’s Central Highlands from Toolangi, near Kinglake, to Powelltown, near Warburton. Leadbeater’s Possum numbers are estimated to have peaked in the mid-1980s, when approximately 7500 were known in the wild. From then, it’s numbers have declined. Logging has impacted on its habitat and range.
Devastatingly, the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 burned around 45% of Leadbeater’s Possum’s remaining habitat. There is now estimated to be around 1,500 Leadbeater’s Possums in existence.
Since 2009 there has been renewed scientific and community interest.
On the 22nd April 2015, Greg Hunt, the Minister for the Environment announced that the Leadbeater’s Possum would be listed as a ‘critically endangered’ species under the Commonwealth Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act.
A captive breeding program at Healesville Sanctuary commenced in May 2012. The program originally comprised 16 individuals from the genetically distinct population at Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve . They are housed as pairs in large enclosures off display and as at May 2020 are still yet to breed.
Various community and environmental groups, including The Wilderness Society, My Environment and Great Forest National Park continue to champion for Victoria’s fairy possum and liaise with both government and industry to create a safe haven.
There is hope that some time soon a national park, the Great Forest National Park will be established that will provide Leadbeater’s possum with a more stable future.
We celebrate Leadbeater’s possum and trust you will too.
Juvenile Leadbeater’s Possum being handled by Joanne Antrobus of Parks Victoria
Leadbeater’s Possums are endemic to Victoria, Australia meaning they exist nowhere else. The range extends across an area of 80km x 50km around 60 kilometres east/north-east of Melbourne
Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum Court Case
The Possum vs The Native Forest Logging Industry
Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum Inc. v VicForests challenges whether the native forest logging industry can be held to account for its impact on federally listed species, when logging has not been conducted in accordance with the 20-year old Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) regime.
The case concerns the magnificent forests of Victoria’s Central Highlands which are home to the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum and the Greater Glider, recently listed as vulnerable. It could have implications for other areas. At stake is native forest habitat on public land that is home to iconic wildlife.
Logging in public native forests is exempt from our national threatened species protection law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, provided that the logging is carried out in accordance with an RFA, a commonwealth-state agreement. The RFA requires a performance review every five years.
We allege that failure to complete the required five-year reviews on time or at all, means that logging in certain areas which significantly impacts the Leadbeater’s Possum and Greater Glider has not been and will not be in accordance with the RFA, and so is not exempt from the assessment and approval requirements of the EPBC Act that apply to such actions.
The Central Highlands RFA was signed on 27 March 1998 and the first 5-year review was due by 2003. However, the State and Federal governments say that they have only done one review, which they say looked at the period up to 2009 and concluded in 2015.
The first hearing in the case was held on Friday, 17th November 2017 before Justice Mortimer of the Federal Court in Melbourne.
Update from the field
The Leadbeater’s Possum population at Lake Mountain
Surveys initiated in 2003 indicated that sub-alpine woodland on the Lake Mountain plateau supported a substantial Leadbeater’s Possum population (~200-300 individuals) prior to the 2009 Black Saturday wildfire. Following the fire, just two family groups (5 individuals) remained.
Late in 2011, 6-7 individuals were being monitored and supplementary fed on the plateau. Following the rapid disappearance of four of these possums, probably due to predation, the decision was made to remove the remaining three individuals to captivity at Healesville Sanctuary on welfare grounds (they are now on display in the nocturnal house at Healesville Sanctuary). Camera trapping surveys conducted following the removal of these possums confirmed that no Leadbeater’s Possums remained in that part of the plateau. It was thought that vegetation recovery permitting Leadbeater’s Possum recolonization of the plateau may take approximately 15 years (i.e. ~2025).
In April 2013, nest box monitoring and stagwatching confirmed that two Leadbeater’s Possum family groups had returned to the plateau far earlier than expected, albeit both were associated with tiny patches of vegetation burnt at lower severity. Each group contained two individuals, and one of these groups had taken up residence in the partly burnt territory where the three possums were removed for captivity one year earlier.
The 2014 monitoring was completed in early April and confirms the ongoing presence of one of these two family groups, which now contains three individuals. The second possum family was not detected in any of the nest boxes, however fresh nesting material was found below one of the nest boxes indicating the ongoing presence of possums in this area.
Extensive genetic sampling of Leadbeater’s Possums at Lake Mountain was completed prior to the 2009 fire. The individuals that survived the fire were sampled in 2011, providing the opportunity to monitor changes in genetic diversity arising as a result of the fire. A comparable monitoring program is underway for Leadbeater’s Possum on the neighbouring Mt Bullfight Plateau, where small clusters of family groups survived the 2009 fire in three distinct areas. The viability of these small, isolated groups of possums is uncertain, and is a key question in understanding how this species responds to wildfire.
Dan Harley (Zoos Victoria) & Joanne Antrobus (Parks Victoria)