Julie Paterson_The Big Picture Collective_Mountain Pygmy-possum.jpg

mountain pygmy-possum

breeding and climate adaptation program - Kunama Namadji to wiradjuri land

hello, tiny possum

wiradjuri land

First discovered as an Ice-age fossil in the late 1800s, the tiny Mountain Pygmy-possum was thought to be extinct, until some lucky punter came across one that was very much alive and running around a kitchen in a Mount Hotham Ski Lodge in 1966.

The Mountain Pygmy-possum (Burramys parvus) is the only Australian marsupial that is restricted to alpine habitats. Current Capture-Mark-Recapture (CMR) surveys put the population at fewer than 2000 of these delightful mammals left in the wild. 

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Alexis Horn on a field trip back in 2010 collecting research on the paleoecology of predators and competitors for the possums.

Image: Karen Watson

Why is the mountain pygmy- possum at risk? 

There’s a whole lot of threats that have put this species on the IUCN red list as critically endangered.

 

Feral cats, foxes and land clearing all play a part, but by far the biggest threat is the climate change that is destroying and diminishing their habitat and food sources.

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Image: Alexis Horn

They live below ground under deep boulder fields in the Snowy Mountains - Kunama Namadji in Ngarigu language - where they spend winter hibernating under an insulating layer of snow. A warming planet means less snow cover, and when it does snow, it doesn’t last as long. 

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Mountain Plum Pine: Image: Ian Fraser

Longer and more ferocious fire seasons and conventional fire management make a big dent in their principal food sources - Bogong moths and the fruits and seed of the Mountain Plum Pine. 

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Image: Alexis Horn

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Image: Karen Watson

Here’s a curly one...How do you save a critically endangered tiny alpine marsupial when its snowy habitat is under threat from climate change? 

Working closely with key Australian biodiversity researchers, including physiologist Professor Fritz Geiser, mammalogist Dr Steve Jackson, ecologist Dr Linda Broome, palaeontologist Professor Mike Archer, palaeoecologist Dr Hayley Bates and ecologist Professor Bronwyn McAllan, Australian Ecosystems Foundation Inc and Secret Creek Sanctuary have used knowledge from the fossil record to develop a truly innovative strategy to save this species. 

(It's made by UNSW and it's really great.)

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Image: Alexis Horn

It takes a big team effort to save a very small marsupial

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Image: Tamara Dean

Professor Mike Archer says, ‘Our discovery that all of the fossil ancestors of the Mountain Pygmy-possum thrived in cool, wet forests in the lowlands of Australia has urged us to try introducing them into modern lowland habitats of the kind where their ancestors thrived for the last 25 million years, before they become extinct in the alpine zone.’ 

A Mountain Pygmy-possum Breeding Centre and Climate Adaptation Project is in the early stages of construction at Secret Creek Sanctuary on Wiradjuri land, just over the Blue Mountains in NSW.

 

It’s been designed to replicate key features of their alpine habitat including rock walls that provide familiar places in which they will feel secure, and where they can begin to adapt to conditions that are milder than their current alpine habitat.

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Image: Karen Watson

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Image: Alexis Horn

With the Mountain Pygmy-possum so vulnerable to even one degree of warming, AEFI have already made a start on protecting the species.

 

Secret Creek already holds a small population of Mountain Pygmy-possums on site. ‘We’ve set up a cold area for them to retreat to. Pretty flash, we reckon,’ says Trevor.  ‘It’s a 4WD fridge freezer with a log entry on the side.’

 

In a captive environment, the possums live on a diet of nuts, seeds and Bogong Moth biccies, a recipe which has been developed by Melbourne Zoo.

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Image: Amber Jane Webb

‘Humans continue to have an increasingly detrimental impact on diverse ecosystems. To my mind, the only sustainable way forward is to be a part of preserving biodiversity,’ says Trevor.

‘Conservation is our collective responsibility, but it’s not a burden. Being involved in this project feels really good.’

trevor Evans, secret Creek sanctuary

We think so too. The Big Picture Collective is proud to donate to Australian Ecosystems Foundation Inc.'s Mountain Pygmy-possum Breeding Centre and Climate Adaptation Project.

Every one of julie's limited edition Mountain Pygmy-Possum portraits sold helps to fund the Mountain Pygmy-possum breeding centre and climate adaptation project.

It's strange to think that I was three years old when they discovered the Mountain Pygmy-possum down the Snowies, and now it's a critically endangered species, on the brink of collapse,' says Julie. 'That's down to us humans who have created a warming planet where, one day - if we don't take drastic action right now - we just won't have any snow. Every plant and insect and animal that relies on alpine environments is at risk.

I'm feeling thankful for the AEF project run at Secret Creek Sanctuary. I really enjoyed painting this mighty, resilient little possum. And I feel privileged that as a part of the Big Picture Collective, I can make a contribution to help Trevor and the MPP team.'

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