Wildlife Australia, December 1996
ISBN 0 6422 1395 X
Marsupials and monotremes have not fared well since Captain Cook arrived in Australia a little over 200 years ago. Australia accounts for about one third of all mammal extinctions world-wide since 1600 and most extinct Australian mammals were marsupials. Currently, at least ten species and six subspecies of Australian marsupials are extinct and many more are threatened with extinction. Fortunately, neither species of monotreme is threatened.
These figures, startling as they are, do not reflect the degree to which increasing numbers of species are under pressure regionally. In the central deserts about one third of all mammal species have disappeared, while in some heavily cleared agricultural areas over one quarter of marsupial species are locally extinct.
Some marsupials are extremely rare. The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, for example, has been reduced to about 67 individuals, of which possibly only 15 are breeding females, while the Mala (the central Australian subspecies of the Rufous Hare-wallaby) became extinct in the wild in 1991 and now exists as about 150 animals in captivity and as one experimental re-introduction, which consists of only about 10 wild animals. And the recently rediscovered Gilbert's Potoroo is known from less than 50 individuals.
In 1992, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) SSC Australasian Marsupial and Monotreme Specialist Group published Australian Marsupials and Monotremes An Action Plan for their Conservation. Most of the information in the 1992 Action Plan was compiled in the late 1980s. The 1992 Plan was prepared before the IUCN started developing new criteria for allocating taxa to Red List categories. Action Plans for other Australian vertebrate groups have been prepared since, and have allocated taxa to the draft category Critical or the now accepted category Critically Endangered. The new definitions, which were finalised in November 1994, allow more rigorous allocation of taxa to the IUCN Red List categories than was the case previously.
The 1992 Action Plan reviewed the conservation status of species, whereas more recent Plans have also treated subspecies. Additionally, there has been much research and conservation action on Australian marsupials in recent years. All these points led us to commission a new Action Plan.
This Action Plan shows that there have been significant improvements in the status of some species over the past decade through scientific research, and habitat and feral predator management. For example, in the 1992 Action Plan, the Woylie (or Brush-tailed Bettong) was listed as Endangered; in this Action Plan it is listed as Lower Risk (conservation dependent), because its numbers and extent of occurrence have increased markedly through translocations and fox control. Many species still require urgent conservation action however, as is reflected in this Action Plan, which has allocated one taxon to Extinct in the Wild, five to Critically Endangered, 17 to Endangered, and 31 to Vulnerable. In all, 27.5% of extant taxa are considered to be threatened.
The 1996 Action Plan for Australian Marsupials and Monotremes is the sixth in the series of Action Plans commissioned by us. Preceding Action plans were for birds, freshwater fishes, reptiles, rodents and cetaceans. Action Plans for frogs, bats, seals and the dugong are in preparation. Conservation overviews are also in preparation for non-vascular plants and invertebrates.
The 1996 Action Plan for Australian Marsupials and Monotremes will play a key role in determining priorities for the conservation research and management needed to prevent further extinctions of Australia's unique species. Australian conservation biologists have the skills and knowledge to conserve all our marsupials; what is needed is commitment and resources to carry out the necessary work.
One final point much of the work was carried out by the Australian Nature Conservation Agency (Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia) but we are now known as the Biodiversity Group (Environment Australia). References to Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia could not be removed from the text at the late stage of name change. Please note: this is not extinction it is evolution!