Under Victorian threatened species law the term vulnerable specifies that the animal faces “a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future”.
Mr Griffiths said he believed the platypus was at similar risk in western NSW, while there was simply not enough data to know the health of populations in Queensland. “Even in parts of Tasmania you are seeing it disappear,” he said.
The application was formally lodged almost two years ago by the wildlife photographer and former zoologist Doug Gimesy. Having considered the evidence in the application, the advisory panel has now recommended the animal be listed. After a month-long period for public consultation, the panel then have another two years to make a final recommendation to the Environment Minister.
According to the evidence presented to the panel the main threats facing platypuses were degradation of waterways from drought and water extraction for agricultural, industrial and domestic use, as well as habitat destruction from land clearing and the construction of infrastructure such as weirs.
Smaller populations in fragmented habitats were at greater risk of population crashes due to other threats, such as predation from foxes, dogs and cats.
Should the platypus be included on the list after a final recommendation under the state Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, the government would be better able to protect platypuses’ remaining habitat having drafted an action statement.
So far more than 730 Victorian plants and animals have been listed, but according to Environment Victoria campaigns manager Nick Aberle, such action statements have not yet been written for the majority of those species.
“Our criticism of the act is that there tends to be a lot of focus on the listings process rather than on the protection of the animals afterwards.”
The recommendation comes after the koala was listed as endangered in NSW, Queensland and the ACT.
“I think we have a sense that our iconic Australian animals like the koala and the platypus are sacred so people are shocked when they come under threat,” Dr Aberle said.
Mr Gimesy said he had mixed feelings when he learnt the panel had recommended the listing after his application.
“It is a bittersweet feeling. You’re glad that the listing might lead to some action being taken to improve things for the animal, but on the other hand you just wish that you were wrong in the first place,” he said.
“The overwhelming feeling is one of sadness.”
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Nick O’Malley is National Environment and Climate Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He is also a senior writer and a former US correspondent.