Tom Arup and Bridie Smith.
A TEAM of scientists and conservationists is pushing to escalate Victoria’s faunal emblem, Leadbeater’s possum, up the national threatened species list to critically endangered – one step below extinct.
The group will make a submission to the federal government early next year, arguing that the possum numbers have declined sharply following a major hit to their habitat in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
Green groups also argue that logging is putting further pressure on the remaining animals.
There are only four mammals in Australia formally recognised as critically endangered on the threatened species list.
One, the Christmas Island pipistrelle, is regarded as extinct by many experts.
Critically endangered species are in part defined under national law as having a greater than 50 per cent chance of becoming extinct in the immediate future. Zoos Victoria threatened species biologist Dan Harley, who will contribute to the submission, said critically endangered was the last step before extinction.
”That’s those species that we are likely to lose first,” he said. ”It’s the recognition of how dire circumstances have become in the wild.”
An expert panel will assess the submission for recommendations to Environment Minister Tony Burke.
The head of the group, Steve Meacher, said a change in status would be an official acknowledgment that policies to save the species must be updated.
Among the data to be outlined is the state of the sub-alpine woodland population. Two of the three sub-alpine sites – Lake Mountain and nearby Mount Bullfight – were burnt on Black Saturday. The Lake Mountain population of about 300 animals was all but wiped out.
Of six individuals surviving, three died and the remaining three were taken to Healesville Sanctuary. At Mount Bullfight, there are now fewer than 50.
”The challenge for us to is to build a conservation strategy for this species that is robust enough to withstand future fires,” Dr Harley said.
The last remaining lowland population is at Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve, east of Melbourne. Here Dr Harley said the population has dropped to no more than 60, due to habitat decline.
”The species’ future is really at the crossroads,” Dr Harley said. ”It is now or never if we are going to save it from extinction.”