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Illustrated: Critically Endangered Species in Australia


The facts: we are currently experiencing our 6th mass extinction. Within the span of 20 years, more than 500 species will likely disappear. The same number of species we lost over the past century. The rate of extinction has accelerated with researchers and biologists from Stanford University noting that “extinction breeds extinction.” The natural world relies on biodiversity and so 1 species going extinct may cause a chain reaction of further disappearances. Currently, 32 000 species are threatened with extinction. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species breaks this down into the percentage each animal group is at risk. 41% of amphibians, 26% of mammals, 34% of conifers (plants), 14% of birds, 30% of sharks and rays, 33% of reef corals, and 28% of crustaceans.

Northern hairy-nosed wombat

Scientific name: Lasiorhinus krefftii

Number of Mature Individuals: 80

About: The Northern hairy-nosed wombat is the world’s largest burrowing herbivore. They primarily graze on native and introduced grasses. Despite being solitary creatures that are active at night, that tend to share their burrows which are deep underground. Either dung, urine, or scratches will be used to mark the entrance/s of their burrow.

Threats according to IUCN Red List:

  • Livestock farming and ranching which caused their habitat to be destroyed.

  • Fire and fire suppression.

  • Invasive and other problematic species, genes and diseases e.g. in Epping Forest National Park, the introduction of buffel grass took over its natural habitat.

Mountain pygmy possum

Scientific name: Burramys parvus

Number of Mature Individuals: Estimate of 330

About: This possum is so small it can fit into the palm of a hand. The mountain pygmy possum inhabits alpine regions and hibernates up to 7 months during winter. They eat berries, seeds, and Bogong moths. Due to pesticide use, droughts, and lights from built up areas, the moths have diverted from their migration route and are also in decline. As a result the pygmy possums do not have enough food to keep their babies alive.

Threats according to IUCN Red List:

  • Road construction, dam/aqueduct construction, and development of infrastructure for the downhill skiing industry at Mt. Bogong and Mt. Higginbotham.

  • Habitat destruction due to bushfires, particularly in the Kosciuszko habitat.

  • Predation by feral cats and the introduced Red Fox.

  • Global warming will intensify threats to this hibernating species.

Regent honeyeater

Scientific name: Anthochaera phrygia

Number of Mature Individuals: 350–400

About: The Regent Honeyeater is a striking yellow and black feathered sociable bird that moves in a flock. It will forage for food in foliage or amongst flowers and its diet consists of nectar, plant sugars, insects, spiders, and fruits. The honeyeater uses puddles or pools to bathe in. This bird likes to nest in forks of trees and will breed in either a loose colony or an individual pair.

Threats according to IUCN Red List:

  • 75% of its habitat has been cleared for agricultural and residential development.

  • Food sources like nectar have been removed due to removal of large mature trees.

  • Reduced rainfall in south-eastern Australia.

  • The destruction of eggs or nestlings by the introduced House Sparrow, Sugar Glider, Squirrel Glider, Australian Magpie, and Pied Currawong.

  • Internal and external parasites on captive-bred birds which when released could endanger wild populations.

Orange-bellied parrot

Scientific name: Neophema chrysogaster

Number of Mature Individuals: 20–25

About: Named for the circular orange patch on the lower belly of this colourful parrot. They nest in tree-hollows, knot-holes in trunks, or holes in dead branches and feed on button grass seeds, fruits, and berries. The parrots migrate between the west coast of Tasmania in summer where they breed and spend winter on the coasts of South Australia and Victoria.

Threats according to IUCN Red List:

  • Degradation of their winter habitat by grazing, agriculture, and industrial development.

  • Degradation of their remaining mainland saltmarsh habitat due to a 10-year drought.

  • Competition with introduced seed-eating finches.

  • Deaths from random events, e.g. predation or disease, are significant threats to this tiny population.

Hawksbill sea turtle

Scientific name: Eretmochelys imbricata

Number of Mature Individuals: Estimate of 20,000–23,000 nesting females

About: These turtles have a narrow, pointed beak, which they are named for. The majority of their diet is sponges which they extract from coral reefs with their beaks. They have a uniquely beautiful pattern of scales that overlap on their shells and that has made them a highly sought after commodity. Coastal development and beach armoring has caused degradation in their natural habitat. When hatchlings make their dash to the water after being born they are also likely to mistake artificial light for the moonlight sea and to be snatched by predators because of their mistaken destination.

Threats according to IUCN Red List:

  • The tortoiseshell trade which has seen millions of Hawksbill sea turtles killed for the tortoiseshell markets of Europe, the United States, and Asia over the last 100 years.

  • Being slaughtered for meat.

  • Developing tropical coastlines for tourism destroys their nesting habitat.

  • Climate change has led to massive coral bleaching events with permanent consequences to their foraging habitat.

  • Pollution, including both oil pollution and the entanglement and ingestion of marine debris.

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