Seven Platypus rescued from drying waterways in the ACT

Seven Platypus rescued from drying waterways in the ACT

#Conservation, #Taronga Conservation Society Australia

Posted on 21st January 2020 by Media Relations

In an effort to save the lives of platypus living at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in the ACT, researchers from Taronga Conservation Society Australia and the UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Ecosystem Science teamed up with officers from ACT Parks and Conservation to rescue seven Platypus from disappearing ponds within the Reserve.

Like most of Australia, Tidbinbilla is suffering extreme dry conditions and waterholes crucial to supporting wildlife are nearly dry. In late December, it was feared the water bodies would be completely dry within weeks. This dire situation was compounded by catastrophic fire conditions and a complete fire ban expected for the region.

“There was a small window between Christmas and New Year that was safe to access Tidbinbilla and try to rescue platypus before they had no water left,” said Andrew Elphinstone, Taronga’s Manager of Conservation and Recovery Programs. “With an ever-decreasing water body comes the reduction in resources including food. It was feared there was not enough prey items to support the platypus population. Without rescue the platypus would have perished in the conditions.”

On the evening of 27 December, members of ACT Parks and Conservation, Dr Sarah May and veterinarian Dr Arianne Lowe, Taronga’s Wildlife Conservation Officer Dr Phoebe Meagher and Platypus keeper Rob Dockerill and researchers from UNSW lead by Tahneal Hawke convened at Tidbinbilla to trap and relocate as many Platypus as possible to Taronga Zoo Sydney, where they could be provided a safe haven and evade almost certain death.

Seven animals (estimated to be more than half of the Reserve’s population) were caught: two males and five females. All animals were transported to Taronga Zoo Sydney early the next morning and are now doing well and adapting to their new circumstances. These animals will be cared for by Taronga’s Platypus keepers and Wildlife Hospital veterinary team until conditions improve and water returns to the system – when this happens these animals will be returned to the wild.

“These animals had nowhere to go and would have almost certainly perished if we didn’t act,” says Dr Sarah May. “I can’t thank Taronga and Dr Richard Kingsford’s team from UNSW enough for helping us save these animals. We will return them when conditions improve, but given how extreme conditions are currently, I fully expect that it will be many months before we see enough rain to replenish this wetland and warrant their return.”

Platypuses were once considered widespread across the eastern Australian mainland and Tasmania, although not a lot is known about them because of their secretive and nocturnal nature. A new study led by UNSW, and supported by Taronga Conservation Society Australia, has for the first time examined the risks of extinction for Platypus.

The study estimated that under current climate conditions and due to land clearing and habitat fragmentation by dams, Platypus numbers have almost halved since European colonisation, leading to the extinction of local populations across about 40 per cent of the species’ range.

As a result of predicted climate change conditions, the losses forecast in the study were far greater because of increases in extreme drought frequencies and duration, such as the current dry spell.

According to Professor Richard Kingsford, the Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW: “Platypus waterholes in some New South Wales rivers are drying up and stranding animals, as a result of the drought exacerbated by river management. Our research has indicated that these incidences will likely increase in an increasingly dry future.”

The platypus is currently listed as ‘near threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Experts have recommended that this be downgraded to ‘vulnerable’.