Jan 21, 2020

Australia's drought threatens to wipe out the platypus

 A keeper at Taronga Zoo holds a baby platypus

A keeper at Taronga Zoo Sydney holds a baby platypus. Photo: Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Australia's climate catastrophe has triggered record-breaking heat waves, drought and a ferocious bushfire season — and it's left the platypus on the brink of extinction, a new study warns.

Why it matters: The semiaquatic egg-laying mammal was once considered widespread across the eastern Australian mainland, but drought conditions have led to "the extinction of local populations across about 40 per cent of the species' range," University of New South Wales researchers said in a statement Monday.

By the numbers: After examining issues including water resource development, land clearing, climate change and increasingly severe periods of drought, the researchers predicted platypus numbers would drop 47%–66% over 50 years.

  • Taking into account projected climate change rates, the unique animal's population numbers are forecast to plummet 51%–73% by 2070.

What they're saying: The University of Melbourne's professor Brendan Wintle, a co-author of the study, published in the February edition of the journal Biological Conservation, said preventative measures need to be taken now.

  • "Even for a presumed 'safe' species such as the platypus, mitigating or even stopping threats, such as new dams, is likely to be more effective than waiting for the risk of extinction to increase and possible failure," he said.
  • "We should learn from the peril facing the koala to understand what happens when we ignore the warning signs," Wintle added.

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