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Northern Australia: Raising Awareness for Declining Mammals

Many of northern Australia’s native mammals are as cute as the koala or kangaroo, but they’re small enough to have escaped notice from the rest of the world. Now, they’re disappearing fast, and the world may never get to make the acquaintance of tiny creatures like the northern quoll or the golden bandicoot.

That’s why a new report is highlighting the perils faced by these mini-mammals and their larger cousins. The Nature Conservancy hopes the study’s findings will spur wider conservation efforts for some of northern Australia’s furred favorites.

The report — entitled "Into Oblivion? The Disappearing Native Mammals of Northern Australia" — was authored by four of Australia’s leading scientists and examines the leading causes of mammal decline in northern Australia. It predicts that, without intervention, many endemic mammals could go extinct within the next twenty years.

By publicizing the fate of these mammals, the report hopes to increase awareness of the environmental impacts that are taking a toll on the ecosystems of northern Australia.

“This issue wasn’t widely known beyond a dedicated group of mammal scientists in the north,” says Dr. James Fitzsimons, the Australia Program’s director of conservation who helped compile the document. “In the south and the east of Australia where a lot of the population resides, this issue isn’t on people's radar.”

Disappearing Fast

Many of northern Australia’s mammals are unique and distinguishable in their appearance, yet are unfamiliar to many Australians.

But the existences of these mammals are becoming increasingly tenuous. Australia — once home to megafauna such as giant kangaroos and the diprotodon (the largest marsupial ever) — has seen more than 20 mammal extinctions in the past 200 years.

That’s more than any other country, and if action isn’t taken soon, additional species could disappear from northern Australia.

Little Mammals, Big Threats

Northern Australia poses a unique set of risks to the diverse array of native species that populate its plains, forests and grasslands.

Fiercer wildfires are destroying habitat at an unprecedented rate. Unsustainable grazing practices, feral and invasive species and perhaps disease also present mammals with new and unsettling challenges.

Reversing the Trend

The Conservancy is working with partners to address a range of threats. We’re supporting more sustainable fire regimes as well as feral pest control and conserving large stretches of ecologically crucial lands in order to preserve the natural resources that make Australia such a rich place for people and wildlife.

By participating in the report — which was co-written by Dr. John Woinarski, Dr. Sarah Legge of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Dr. Barry Traill from the Pew Environment Group and was completed with support from the Thomas Foundation — Fitzsimons hopes to bring attention to an increasingly urgent issue.

“While Australia’s had one of the worst rates of mammal extinction” Fitzsimons says. “The declines we’re witnessing now are much more rapid events that require us to start thinking harder about how we manage lands in the north.”

You can help by supporting the Conservancy’s efforts in northern Australia.

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