Victoria - Threatened Species Day fact sheet
Environment Australia, 2002
Do not disturb! Hibernating Pygmy-possums
Illustration: Barbara Cameron-Smith
Spare a thought for the hibernating Mountain Pygmy-possums roused from their annual deep sleep under the snow by snowmaking and slope grooming overhead. The unexpected wakeup call increases the mouse-sized animal's energy needs at a time when they are snowed under and their energy levels are low.
The endangered Mountain Pygmy-possum is the largest of the Pygmy-possum family, yet weighs only 45 grams and can easily fit into the palm of a hand. These tiny possums spend the short summer scampering amazing distances up and down mountains and across boulder fields to find mates. They also need to fatten up on berries and fat-rich bogong moths in preparation for the long cold and foodless winter under the snow. The total adult population is less than 3000, and there are a range of major threats to its survival.
The world's only hibernating marsupial, the Mountain Pygmy-possum is the only Australian mammal limited in its distribution to alpine and subalpine regions, where there is a continuous period of snow cover for up to six months.
The Mountain Pygmy-possum's habitat is therefore patchy, restricted to around eight square kilometres above 1600 metres sea level in New South Wales' Kosciusko National Park and two square kilometres above 1400 metres sea level in Victoria's Alpine National Park, centred on Mount Hotham and Mount Buller. This means that the Mountain Pygmy-possum's total available habitat covers less than 10 square kilometres.
The Mountain Pygmy-possum needs a snow depth over winter of at least one metre to provide enough insulation to keep it warm during hibernation. Consequently, anything that reduces the snow depth threatens the possum. Sharing their mountain-top habitat with ski fields contributes to this and brings other problems for Pygmy-possums. Snow compaction and the removal of boulders and vegetation cover, the development of noisy ski fields, villages, car parks and roads have altered, reduced and broken up Pygmy-possum habitat.
Preyed on by foxes and feral cats, the surviving colonies also face a new threat from global warming. Warmer temperatures would fragment and thin the winter snow cover, reducing its insulation capacity and exposing the Pygmy-possums to colder temperatures, making it even harder for them to survive the winter.
Conservation agency staff in Victoria and New South Wales are working closely with ski resort operators to protect this tiny possum. The recovery plan for this species involves: establishing more movement corridors to link fragmented populations; rehabilitating degraded and fragmented habitats; minimising the impacts and disturbances due to ski field activities; undertaking feral cat and fox control around important populations; and regularly monitoring known populations.
You can help the Mountain Pygmy-possum and other threatened alpine species by:
- taking care when visiting national parks to keep your impact to a minimum;
- not taking your cats and dogs into the ski fields;
- if you live near the alps, making sure your dog and/or cat is desexed;
- if you ski or bushwalk in the alps, remembering that threatened plants and animals also live in and around alpine resorts and supporting efforts to protect them;
- being careful not to damage vegetation under thin snow or exposed areas;
- protecting the habitat of all our native species including the mountain pygmy possum;
- driving carefully and watching out for wildlife on the roads to and from the ski fields; and
- supporting local efforts to conserve threatened species in your area by joining a local conservation, 'friends of' or Bushcare group, or by volunteering for Conservation Volunteers Australia.
For more information on helping threatened species in Victoria, contact the Threatened Species Network Coordinator:
Telephone: (03) 9650 8296
You can also find out more information about Australia's threatened species by calling the Department of the Environment and Heritage's Community Information Unit on free call 1800 803 772 or by visiting the Department of the Environment and Heritage threatened species web site at www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened
The Grampians Pincushion Lily produces clumps of brown, branched stems up to 15 centimetres tall, with tufts of spiky leaves, each about 1.5 centimetres long. During springtime, the plant produces attractive round heads of star-shaped white flowers on a stem at the ends of the branches.
Pincushion Lilies are examples of a very interesting group of plants that botanists call 'resurrection plants'. Resurrection plants appear to die out completely during dry periods but, in fact, only enter a dormant stage. They regenerate from buds once they receive sufficient moisture again however, they can only regenerate if the period of drought has not been excessively long.
The Grampians Pincushion is one of Victoria's most endangered plants. Its only known location is a single rock outcrop about 60 metres long by 20 metres wide within the Grampians National Park. It is threatened by soil erosion, digging by native and feral animals, potential wildfire and loss of native canopy cover. Recovery plans are underway to minimize soil disturbance and to develop techniques to propagate and translocate the species.