The Mountain Pygmy-Possum is critically endangered and thought to be extinct until they were re-discovered at Mt Hotham in the Victorian Alps during the 1960’s. The Mountain Pygmy-Possum is confined in its distribution to the Australian Alps, occurring in three locations across the alpine region in Victoria (Mt Bogong and Mt Buller) and NSW. In NSW, a third population is distributed among small patches of habitat in alpine and subalpine areas of Kosciuszko National Park.
Since 2001, FNPW has been involved in the protection of the Mountain Pygmy-Possum including the establishment of a captive breeding program and climate change adaption centre.
This project was funded through generous donations from FNPW supporters across Australia and beyond.
The Backyard Buddies website has information about Australian native species, including the Mountain Pygmy-Possum.
Funding support was provided by our partners Australian Geographic and Paddy Pallin.
The aims of this project are to survey, assess habitat quality and map all habitat of the endangered Mountain Pygmy-Possum in Kosciuszko National Park. This will result in a revised population size estimate and management guidelines for Mountain Pygmy-Possums in ski resorts and other areas within Kosciuszko National Park.
Subsidiary projects using data and hair samples collected during this survey will include an appraisal of gene flow between habitat patches, modelling of the effects of climate change on habitat availability, and the distribution of refugia under various warming scenarios.
The captive breeding program aims to:
- Provide an insurance population for re-introduction into the current range in case of further declines.
- Provide stock for experimental introductions to currently unoccupied alpine habitat in Kosciuszko National Park.
- Assess the ability of the Mountain Pygmy-Possum to breed and maintain populations in a warmer climate.
- Conduct experimental releases into areas of habitat less vulnerable to climate change, such as lowland rainforest and wet forest.
This program will be the first of its kind, as one of its primary aims will be to assess the ability of the Mountain Pygmy-Possum to adapt to warmer climates. Fossil records show that this marsupial lived in rainforest areas in the past, and leading scientists believe that it could be adapted and reintroduced to areas less threatened than their current habitat.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF COUNTRY
FNPW supports projects across Australia. In the spirit of reconciliation we acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Country and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture.
PROGRESS OF THIS PROJECT
This project has been funded by FNPW since 2001.
New Mountain Pygmy-Possums Discovered
Dr Linda Broome has been researching the endangered Mountain Pygmy-Possums for over 25 years, and recently she’s been aflutter with some fantastic news. “In late 2010 we located some new, low density populations of Mountain Pygmy-Possums 30 km north of the other known sites in Kosciuszko National Park,” she said.
Dr Broome was surprised at the location of the new Mountain Pygmy-Possums. “Two animals were caught at 1200m and 1240 m – much lower than that experienced in the southern sites, which are mostly above 1600m but down to 1400m.” Previously, scientists thought Mountain Pygmy-Possums only lived in four isolated populations, within a 5 km sq. habitat between Southern NSW and the north-eastern VIC Alps.
Before the discovery of Mountain Pygmy-Possums in new areas, the four remaining populations had become so isolated that inbreeding was becoming a threat to the survival of the species. “The discovery of new individuals is very exciting,” Dr Broome said. “The genetics will be most interesting as will the comparisons of snow cover and hibernation duration between these new Pygmy-Possums and the known populations.”
UNSW Professor Mike Archer warns that we can’t celebrate the long-term viability of the Mountain Pygmy-Possums just yet. Other threats such as the loss of snow cover due to climate change and predation from feral cats and foxes are also decimating Mountain Pygmy-Possum populations. He queried Dr Broome as to whether these new possums represent a “stranded population” and considered that they might be “in at least as much danger as the populations higher up.”
Of the Mountain Pygmy-Possums discovered in new areas, he says, “With so few individuals, it would seem that they are potentially even more fragile than the populations Dr Broome has already been monitoring.” Professor Archer and Dr Broome both agree that efforts to save the Mountain Pygmy-Possums from extinction have become urgent. They are both supporting the establishment of a captive breeding program for the Mountain Pygmy-Possums at Secret Creek, Lithgow NSW.
Bone remains in caves across NSW & VIC indicate that the Mountain Pygmy-Possum once had a far greater geographic distribution and was far more numerous. They are now restricted to what Dr Broome calls a “tiny remnant population that could blink out anytime, unless we try to do something about it.”
One of the aims of the captive breeding program is to undertake world first research into whether a threatened species can be adapted to climate change. It will investigate whether Mountain Pygmy-Possums can survive when released into safer, lower altitude habitats, where fossil evidence has shown Mountain Pygmy-Possums once thrived. The newly found possums support this aim.
Taken from Newspaper Media Release: 1st February 2011
Mountain Pygmy-Possum captive breeding program
In 2010, the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife (FNPW), in collaboration with Australian Geographic (AG), launched a campaign to raise funds for the development of a captive breeding facility for the endangered and iconic Mountain Pygmy-Possum.
It is planned to construct the breeding facility at the Australian Ecosystems Foundation Inc. Sanctuary at Secret Creek, near Lithgow. This site has a suitable cold climate and the daily care of the animals will be undertaken by the Sanctuary staff.
A number of PhD students will also be involved with the project in its various stages. Two students (Hayley Bates and Haijing Shi) have spent the last 2 years studying possums in the wild. They have been trying to answer the question of why the Mountain Pygmy-Possum does not occur below the winter snowline (1200 – 1400 m elevation) in its current environment.
So far, the FNPW and AG have raised $113, 000.00 funding for the project, of the ca. $550,000.00 needed to establish the facility. An estimated $1,128,000.00 will be required to run the project over the next 5 years. The breeding facility design is being drafted by architect Jo Gillies.
A captive husbandry manual is being prepared and geneticist Dr. Andrew Weeks (CESAR, Melbourne) is undertaking an analysis of the DNA of hair samples from all the possums that have been captured in Kosciuszko National Park. Dr Weeks will advise on the source and number of founders (breeding males and females taken in from the wild population) required to establish a genetically robust captive population.
Fortunately, the last two years of cooler temperatures and high rainfall have led to a recovery in numbers of Mountain Pygmy-Possums in many of the small, wild colonies in Kosciuszko National Park.
We are therefore confident there will plenty of animals to take some individuals into captivity, without affecting the wild population. We are currently working hard to have all the approvals and planning completed so that construction of the facility can begin by the end of this year. All going well, we hope to introduce our first group of animals to the facility next autumn, hopefully before Eastern Australia falls into another drought cycle.
We would like to extend a huge thank you to all the people and organisations who have contributed to the fund-raising effort. Well done.
Linda Broome, 7 March 2012
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Mountain Pygmy-Possum Breeding Centre Build
Progress of Mountain Pygmy-Possum Breeding Centre
The construction of the Mountain Pygmy-Possum breeding centre at the Secret Creek Sanctuary will allow for an insurance population onsite, with the goal of increasing genetic diversity within the population and widening their environmental range through experimental acclimatization for release into modern lowland, cool wet forests environments such as Lithgow.
The following activities were completed during the June to September period:
- The two rock walls with internal nest boxes have been built
- Materials for internal fit out, external wall cladding and services (water/electricity) have been supplied to the site
- Internal fit out works have been completed –construction of an insulated temperature-controlled room, food storage & preparation room
- External wall cladding works have been completed, including installation of windows and doors
The following activities are planned for the October to December period:
- Weld frames, entry doors and fit mesh
- Connect electricity, water and sewage
- Finish outer walkway and deck
- Put up the Project Information Sign and logos
The project was commenced by levelling the construction site, using an excavator, a bobcat and a skillful Land Surveyor. We then continued the site preparation work by building the bridge across to the site using an excavator and rocks delivered from local quarry.
We now have the bridge to the site completed. Also, the site is ready for foundations to be laid – the steel frame shed, the concrete slab and granite walls.
The Steel Frame Shed was supplied by local business Wide Span Sheds as per the design drawings. The lead time was longer than usual as there has been an increased demand for sheds post bush fires (burnt sheds being replaced with new ones).
The next step was to lay roofing material and roof insulation to keep the Mountain Pygmy-Possums cold during summer when there is little natural shade. This work was completed in early May.
Concrete foundations for the rock wall habitat were laid in early February. Construction of the top concrete slab – the building floor measuring 23.1m x 8.4m x 100mm – was scheduled for March.
Drainage system has been put in place on the top of the concrete foundations to facilitate moisture distribution on the rock wall habitats. The construction of the top concrete slab – the building floor measuring 23.1m x 8.4m x 100mm – was completed in early May.
Rock Wall Habitat
Mountain Pygmy-Possum nest boxes were supplied by local business – Lithgow Men’s Shed. These boxes will form the body of each rock wall, which will enable individual temperatures to be managed at different points in the wall. The construction of the Rock Wall commenced in the middle of May. Large rocks from local quarry will form the foundations of the walls. Two rock wall habitats have been built, containing nest boxes for the possums.
Internal/External Fit Out
A significant part of the internal fit out works have been completed – construction of an insulated temperature-controlled room, food storage & preparation room. Some external wall cladding works have been completed, including installation of windows, doors and fire-proof weatherboard planks.
Project Information sign
Bob Sutor, a local Aboriginal Elder and current President of AEFI has finished painting the board for the project information sign. This sign will be placed at the entrance to MPP enclosure and will provide visitors with an overview of the project.