Mountain pygmy possum numbers recovering

By Country News

A tiny possum is on the way back from extinction in north-eastern Victoria.

Australian scientists, land managers and partner agencies are 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.

The possum was first found at Mt Buller in 1996, when the population was about 300 animals.

Ecologist Dean Heinze said 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 centred around the natural rocky boulder fields that we get at places like Mt Buller, Mt 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 that involved controlling predator numbers, rehabilitating habitat through revegetation and creating rock corridors to re-link boulder field patches.

‘‘Later, we undertook gene pool mixing or genetic rescue,’’ Dr Heinze said.

‘‘We took some males from the Mt Hotham area and relocated them to Mt Buller to reinvigorate the genetic pool.

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

Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority’s Gaye Sutherland said the ‘Mending Mountains for Pygmy Possums’ project would continue to improve habitat, increase predator control and create better habitat linkages to build on the successful work in bringing the population back from the brink.

She 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 Mt 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.

The project engaged members of the Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, the traditional owners of Mt 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 Mt Buller Resort Management, Parks Victoria and the traditional owners of the region,’’ Ms Sutherland said.