Conservation

The long-beaked echidna is listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Never as widespread or abundant as its two Australian relatives, Zaglossus is now threatened by habitat loss and severe over-hunting for meat. The logging industry in New Guinea is not only responsible for the destruction of huge areas of forest, it also leaves the remaining habitat much more accessible to hunters. The latest estimates put the total population at about a quarter of a million.

In contrast, the short-beaked echidna is apparently thriving. It is one of few native Australian mammals for which the arrival of European settlers and introduced wildlife has not resulted in a serious decline. It is not hunted for meat, and its spines are ample protection from most animal predators. Its diet of ants means it can survive in a wide variety of habitats and is not adversely affected by many forms of development. Both echidnas and their prey can even survive bush fires, by burrowing underground and waiting for the flames to pass above.

The duck-billed platypus is something of a conservation success story. It was hunted extensively for its fur, which is thick and silky like that of an otter. The platypus also suffered indirectly from the actions of humans, as rivers were polluted by industrial and mining effluent and waterways were modified around human settlement. Concrete banks are not good for burrowing, and human-made structures such as weirs, drain guards, and dams are all potential platypus death traps. Many thousands have been drowned in fishing nets. However, the story has a happy ending. Unlike many other threatened mammals, the decline of the duck-billed platypus did not go unnoticed and, since the 1960s, it has been a well-protected species. Many waterways have been restored specifically to meet platypus needs and it is an increasingly common species, even in some towns.

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