TIME IS RUNNING OUT for the once thought extinct Leadbeater’s possum (gymnobelideus leadbeateri).
The possum, named after taxidermist John Leadbeater, was first declared extinct in the 1950s but was given a second chance at survival when a colony was rediscovered in a forest in Marysville in the 1960s. So significant was the occasion that Victoria made the small marsupial its state faunal emblem.
About 40 to 50 per cent of the Leadbeater’s habitat was wiped out during the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, which devastated the Marysville community.
Leadbeater possum expert Professor David Lindenmayer, an ecologist from the Australian National University in Canberra, says that for there to be any chance of long-term survival for the small marsupial we must act urgently.
“It’s pretty stark and it’s pretty certain at this point: it’s going to be extinct in 25 years,” he says.
A baby Leadbeater’s possum, weighing in at 25g. (Credit: Emma Campbell)
Only 1500 Leadbeater’s possums remain
Endemic only to Victoria, Leadbeaters number fewer than 1500 individuals, so the conservation of their habitat is now more important than ever. Their last remaining sanctuaries are the mountain ash forests in the central highlands of Victoria.
The possums live in tree hollows, but not just any hollow. They’ll typically choose an old tree – often dead – and one that is in an advanced state of decay.
David completed his PhD on the possum back in 1990 and has been studying it ever since.
“We can’t claim ignorance in this case. We know the biology of this species more than any species in Australia,” he says.
As the best homes for Leadbeaters also correspond with popular logging sites, new habitat is very difficult to redevelop. Rotations between logging operations vary between 50 and 80 years but it takes around 200 to 400 for an appropriate Leadbeater’s hollow to develop, David says.
Forests are being rapidly overcut by the logging industry, David adds. “Loggable forests will be completely cut within 15 years,” he says.
And without the forests the Leadbeater’s possum won’t have a chance.