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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 January 2021

Environment

Tiny possum found on Australia's Kangaroo Island for first time since bushfires

There were fears the creature, which weighs less than 10 grams, had been wiped out

One of the smallest possums in the world was found on Australia's Kangaroo Island for the first time since most of its habitat was wiped out in devastating bushfires.

The little pygmy possum found by conservation group Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife weighs less than 10 grams.

Ecologists had feared that the possum population, which was under threat before the fires, may have been effectively wiped out when almost half the island was burnt in the 2019-2020 bushfire season.

This capture is the first documented record of the species surviving post-fire

Pat Hodgens

“This capture is the first documented record of the species surviving post-fire,” fauna ecologist Pat Hodgens told Guardian Australia. “The fire did burn through about 88 per cent of that species’ predicted range, so we really weren’t sure what the impact of the fires would be, but it’s pretty obvious the population would have been pretty severely impacted.”

Until their bush habitat regenerates, the remaining population of pygmy possums is exposed to an increased threat from predation, especially by introduced species such as feral cats.

The heartening discovery comes as Australia braces for the approaching southern hemisphere summer - and, with it, another bushfire season.

Last summer's fires, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison called Australia's "black summer", killed 33 people and billions of native animals.

The prolonged bush fire season was fuelled by three years of drought, but this year the risk is from grasslands after the prolific growth of vegetation helped by good rains in early spring.

"Grass might be greener in the area where you are right now, but it won't take long for it to dry out once the heat of summer starts to appear," said Richard Thornton, chief executive of Bushfire and Natural Hazard Co-operative Research Centre.

Australia's fire season usually runs from late southern hemisphere spring through summer.

Updated: December 9, 2020 01:38 PM

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