Mountain pygmy possum on the road back from local extinction

Friday 16 November, 2018
Australian scientists, land managers and partner agencies are actively working together to prevent extinction of the endangered mountain pygmy possum from the rocky slopes of one of the country’s most popular ski resorts.

This tiny Australian terrestrial possum was first discovered at Mount Buller in 1996, when the population was recorded to be around 300 animals.

Ecologist Dean Heinze said that over the next decade that number plummeted to less than 50 and possibly even as low as 30.

“It was one of the most dramatic crashes in wildlife numbers that has ever been recorded,” Dr Heinze said. “The possum’s habitat is centered around the natural rocky boulder fields that we get at places like Mount Buller, Mount Hotham and other alpine regions.

“The problem is that some of that habitat was removed for ski-run development.”

A recovery plan was rolled out in 2005 which involved controlling predator numbers, rehabilitating habitat though revegetation and creating rock corridors to re-link boulder field patches.

“Later, we undertook gene pool mixing or genetic rescue. We took some males from the Mount Hotham area and relocated them to Mount Buller to reinvigorate the genetic pool,” Dr Heinze said.

“So far the results have been really positive, to the point that we now have more animals at Mount Buller now than when we first discovered the possum in the 1990s.”

Goulburn Broken CMA’s Gaye Sutherland said the Mending Mountains for Pygmy Possums project would provide a great benefit by continuing to improve habitat, increase predator control, and create better habitat linkages to build on the successful work to date to bring this population back from the brink.

Ms Sutherland said the pygmy possum was listed as an endangered species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and restricted to only three geographically separated locations at Kosciusko National Parks in NSW, and Mt Bogong/ Higginbotham and Mt Buller in Victoria.

“The Mount Buller population is the only one in the Goulburn Broken Catchment, and as a nationally endangered species, it is a major focus for us,” Ms Sutherland said.

Ms Sutherland said the project engaged members of the Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, the Traditional Owners of Mount Buller, to carry out surveys and deliver on-ground works and predator control within mountain pygmy possum habitat areas.

“It builds on the success we’ve had previously working in the Alpine environment with Mount Buller Resort Management, Parks Victoria and the Traditional Owners of the region,” she said.

The Mending Mountains for Pygmy Possums project is supported by Goulburn Broken CMA through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.