March 23, 2011

45 Rare Species In Australia Face Extinction

Scientists warned on Wednesday that 45 rare species of wallaby, bandicoot and other Australian animals could become extinct within 20 years unless urgent action is taken to control introduced predators and other threats.

A study found that dozens of mammals, birds, lizards and other vertebrates in the remote northwestern Kimberley region are at risk from hunting by feral cats and from destruction of their native habitat by wild donkeys, goats and fires.

"We're in the midst of a massive extinction event in Australia and the north has really been the last stronghold for many species of birds and mammals and reptiles," said Tara Martin, a co-author of the report by the government-funded Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

About 30 percent of the endangered species identified in the study are unique to the Kimberley region, while others have already disappeared elsewhere in the country.

"The Kimberley is really their last chance on Earth," Martin told The Associated Press (AP).

The report said that immediate funding of $96 million is needed to start a range of conservation programs, and that annual funding to protect that region's native animals should be doubled to $40 million.

The Wilderness Society conservation group commissioned the study, which was based on scientific data and information from about 30 experts with experience in the region.

According to the study, the most effective ways of combating the threat of extinction are to reduce the number of wild donkeys and goats that compete with native species for scarce food and water.

It said that attacks by feral cats should be reduced by educating the community about the threat pets pose to small native animals and by building fences.

Donkeys, goats and cats are among dozens of species introduced by humans to Australia as stock animals or pets.  However, those species are now considered invasive in many areas where wild populations swell because they have few natural predators.

Martin told AP that feral cats alone kill about 500,000 native animals in the regions each day.

She said that some benefits from the proposed conservation efforts would be seen relatively quickly, while others would take several generations.

Ecologist Richard Hobbs of the University of Western Australia said it was the first time a wide range of reliable information about the problem in the Kimberley has been compiled.

"The position for the Kimberley is that, at the moment, we are ahead of the extinction curve," he told AP. "However, if we let things continue unabated, there is little doubt that the same wave of loss of species will occur in the Kimberley as has occurred elsewhere, particularly in southern parts of Australia."

He added that one encouraging sign from the report is that the measures proposed are not too difficult to contemplate.

"The price tag sounds expensive, but relatively speaking it's a huge conservation bargain," he said.


Image Caption: The charismatic Gouldian Finch is one species that has maintained a relative stronghold in the Kimberley, while declining more severely elsewhere in northern Australia. Image Credit: Martybugs/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)   


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