SYDNEY – Australian scientists are preparing to reintroduce platypuses to the country’s oldest national park after they disappeared from the region nearly 50 years ago, embarking on an ambitious plan to preserve the duck-billed wonders.
Platypuses have not been seen in the country’s Royal National Park, about 20 miles south of Sydney, for decades. But Gilad Bino, a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales, said the project would see egg-laying mammals return as early as next year, comparing the park to Yellowstone in the United States in terms of landscape value. Australian. .
The effort, in collaboration with WWF, Taronga Zoo and the NSW government, is simple in theory: Bino and his colleagues are studying platypus breeding behaviors in southern NSW. South and will spend the second half of 2021 surveying the Royal National Park to see if they can find suitable foci for the monotremes hidden in the thick eucalyptus forests. Platypuses need deep pools of water to live with high shores to build burrows.
If researchers are able to find a suitable ground for burrows and deep freshwater ponds full of food, they hope to capture around 10 of the thriving platypus populations and reintroduce them to the park by the end of this year. 2022. Scientists would monitor them for several years to see if they can adapt to the new environments, but Bino said such projects have been successful in other parts of Australia. Displaced platypuses began to lay eggs and raise young clutches, called puggles, a few years later.
“We know it is possible,” he said, highlighting successful relocation projects in the states of Victoria and South Australia. “They can handle the translocation, and if there is [these deep pool] shelters, they can cope with drought and fires.
Finding platypuses, which are mostly active at dusk and at night, is a daunting task, even for a professional platypus hunter.
“Sometimes it’s mind-boggling to think of the amount of effort we put into a single platypus,” Bino said, noting that his team averages about two platypuses per night, but that number is steadily closer to zero. “It’s usually at least two people, we lay nets at dusk, wait by the river all night.”
But, he added, “when you catch one, it’s gold.”
His team will be looking for potential platypuses in the Royal National Park when looking for potential new homes, and there have been anecdotal sightings over the past 15 or 20 years. But the researchers will mainly use DNA testing methods to see if there are any traces left in the streams rather than looking for the furry puzzles.
It is not clear exactly why the platypus went extinct from the Royal National Park. Some believe that a chemical spill in the 1980s on a road near the park may have killed populations, or that it may be a series of droughts or related poor water quality. to coal mining.
Decades later, platypuses face a series of threats across the country, similar to those endured by other iconic species, including the koala and corals along the Great Barrier Reef.
Invasive foxes and cats can prey on platypuses, and the animals are particularly vulnerable to severe droughts and bushfires that have hit the country with increasing regularity as the climate warms.
A study conducted last year by Bino and his colleague, Tahneal Hawke, found dramatic declines in platypus populations nationwide. Over the past 30 years, the couple have found that platypus habitat has declined by up to 22% in eastern Australia, where the animals are endemic, and the number of platypuses seen in parts of some urban areas near Melbourne had shrunk by 65.%.
Platypuses are listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but Bino and Hawke have urged Australia to classify them as threatened under the country’s conservation laws.
“The platypus is not visible anywhere else on the planet and, like so many other iconic native species, its future is uncertain,” said Matt Kean, Minister of the Environment for New South Wales, in a press release on the reintroduction plan. “Unfortunately, we have one of the worst extinction rates in the world and we need to make sure the platypus never makes this list.”
Bino says the reintroduction plan is part of a larger initiative to preserve platypuses for future generations. The plan could one day include captive breeding programs, rescue networks and efforts to find more habitats where they can be reintroduced.
“The platypus is an iconic species, it is a flagship species, its evolution is unique,” he said. “I want people to experience it, think of platypuses when they go to the park, and get excited about nature.”
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