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Platypus: The Silent Victims of Climate Change (And How Australia Is Going to Change That)

The platypus is making a comeback to Australia’s National Parks this year and it means a lot for the ecosystem. In May of this year, five female platypuses were introduced to Hacking River, Sydney, Australia. The plan is to have four males join the paddle of platypus after the females have settled back into the Australian ecosystem and have established their territory. Experts have said this is the way to ensure the female platypuses can “settle in without those males who are a bit bolder, a bit boisterous” and may make the settling-in process a bit more erratic and tricky (Rob Brewster, WWF, ABC News, May 2023). The key to conservation then is patience, as the males will be brought in after 10 days and the future of the conservation of the species begins.


The project was a joint effort on behalf of the University of South Wales, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the World Wildlife Fund. The goal: to save these creatures from extinction. According to Cameron Kerr, from the Taronga Conservation Society Australia, the platypus, as a species, is “the silent victim[s] of climate change” (NSW, 15 May 2023). The collaborative efforts seek to create not only a reintroduction of the elusive animal but also to establish a self-sustaining habitat full of genetically diverse platypuses. 


The platypuses in question were sourced from the Bombala and Dalgety regions of Australia and were monitored in the platypus refuge of Taronga Zoo. They were not released for the project until experts felt they were healthy and ready for the change, wanting to ensure the success of the project’s goal.


These strange mammals have not been seen in the Australian National Park for over 50 years. Speculations over the disappearance have led to many believe that a major oil spill in the area during the 1970s caused the decline in the population. The oil spill on the Princes Highway may have been the culprit, but according to the statistics, many had seen less and less of the platypus population before this time. The team involved in setting up the environment and new home for these creatures worked hard to ensure the water quality and surrounding area were good enough for the intended long-standing ecosystem. The prep also involves ensuring the area has critters and food for the species to survive on.


The curious creature, with its duck-billed beak, has bamboozled the public for decades, with its strange appearance (fluffy, with a duck-bill, and the ability to lay eggs, despite being semi-aquatic). However, it is not commonly known how much they have suffered in the wake of the environmental changes that have happened due to climate change. Particularly as the platypus is known to have special adaptations to help with its survival. Most notable is the duck-like bill while the rest of its body is mammal-like, yet the creature is labeled officially as an amphibious Australian mammal. The bill allows the animal to dig through the riverbeds for food, crustaceans, and larvae. The mammal has also adapted its electromechanical systems to pick up the signal given off by its prey in the water, making it better adapted for hunting (Britannica, August 2023). With its reputation for being adaptable in its own evolutionary timeline for the species, it’s hard to imagine how much the species have suffered during climate change.


Sadly, these strange and sophisticated creatures have been under threat of extinction due to habitat destruction and droughts because of their semi-aquatic nature. The recent developments in environmental changes, climate change, and global warming have caused many of the earth’s species to fall further and further towards the extinction mark. Usually found in Eastern Australia, the platypus has endured a habitat loss of 22% since 1990, with platypus observations dropping by 32% in New South Wales, 27% in Queensland, and 65% in Melbourne (BBC News, November 2020). The creature was listed as ‘Near Threatened’ for the Red List, by IUCN, in 2014 (IUCN Red List). Since then, conservationists have taken action to ensure the species do not reach extinction level. With the way this new project looks in Australia’s National Park, we may see the semi-aquatic, egg-laying enigma’s status change to ‘Least Concern’ in the future. 


Lead researcher on the project, Dr Gilad Bino, proposes that, if the venture proves successful, it could mean a lot for the rescuing of more platypuses. Dr Gilad Bino states that “an integral part of future conservation efforts will be our preparedness to undertake emergency responses to rescue and translocate platypuses from drought-affected areas” (UNSW Sydney, May 2023). This project was just the first step toward a more sustainable future and the preservation for an entire species of animal. The scheme may also help to raise awareness of the less thought-about animals in the face of climate change.

Edited by: Anwen Venn

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