The Platypus is at Risk of Extinction: Study
Sun, April 18, 2021

The Platypus is at Risk of Extinction: Study

Extinction is an ever-looming threat to the world’s wildlife and its habitats. With the increasing global temperatures, continuous animal hunting, and rising sea levels, they are doomed to be gone forever. A 2018 report released by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) revealed that humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles since 1970. Freshwater habitats were heavily affected, with populations having collapsed by 83%. But the most affected was South and Central America, with an 89% total drop in wildlife. 

This led the world’s scientists to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilization. “We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff. If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China, and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done,” Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF, said. 

According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, other reports reveal that half of the plants since the dawn of civilization and 83% of all mammals were destroyed by humankind. As a result, it would take about five to seven million years for the natural world to recover. Another report by the Living Planet Index showed that animal populations declined by an average of 60% between 1970 and 2014. The researchers tracked the decline of the wildlife using data on 16,704 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians, representing more than 4,000 species.

Additionally, the 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) states that most major land-based habitats have fallen by at least 20% since 1900. More than a third of all marine mammals, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, and more than 40% of amphibian species have gone extinct. Aside from that, at least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016. 

According to the United Nations, an intergovernmental organization responsible for maintaining international peace and security, the five main culprits for the increasing decline of wildlife include changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution, and invasive alien species. 

“To better understand and, more importantly, to address the main causes of damage to biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people, we need to understand the history and global interconnection of complex demographic and economic indirect drivers of change, as well as the social values that underpin them,” Prof. Eduardo S. Brondízio from Brazil said. 

Basic Facts About the Platypus

Australia’s beloved egg-laying mammal, the platypus, is one of the species on the brink of extinction if the current trends continue. This comes as a surprise to many because the platypus is known as being resilient. Throughout the 20th century, when many of the continent’s native fauna declined or disappeared, most scientists didn’t see the need to monitor the animal’s populations. 

The platypus has been one of nature’s most unlikely animals mainly because of its physical features. It has many features that resemble different animals such as bills and webbed feet (ducks), tail (beaver), and body and fur (otter). According to National Geographic, the official magazine of the National Geographic Society that contains articles about science, geography, history, and world culture, the first scientists to examine the specimen of the platypus believed they were the victims of a hoax.

This animal can only live throughout the island of Tasmania and the eastern and southeastern coast of Australia. While they only exist on one side of one continent, scientists discovered that it could survive many climate extremes the plateaus, lowlands, tropical rainforests, and the cold mountains of Tasmania and the Australian Alps. Platypuses are also among the few venomous mammals. The Australian Platypus Conservatory reported that male platypuses have a spur on the back of their hind feet that are connected to a venom-secreting gland. Their venom, while not life-threatening to humans, can cause severe swelling and "excruciating pain." 

The Declining Population of the Platypus

At first, scientists believed that there was nothing to worry about when it came to platypuses because they are resilient animals. But, biologists started to realize their population was in decline, and the rest of the world just wasn't made aware of it. Scientists noticed the platypus’ decline as early as the 1980s, but they didn’t take action. During the next few years, more and more data from long-term monitoring programs showed a constant decline of the species. 

“We’ve been monitoring platypus since 1995 and the decline is certainly evident,” Tiana Preston, an environmental water resources planner for the Victoria state agency Melbourne Water, said.

A recent study by the University of New South Wales Sydney's (UNSW) Centre for Ecosystem Science, funded through a UNSW-led Australian Research Council project and supported by the Taronga Conservation Society, revealed that the platypus is at greater risk of extinction than previously thought. The researchers examined the potential impacts on platypus populations from the range of threats the animals are facing. This includes fragmentation of river habitats by dams, water resource development, global climate change, land clearing for agriculture, and increasingly severe periods of drought.

According to Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases and publishes lightly edited press releases about science, the findings showed the number of the platypus almost halved. The threats the species faced led to the extinction of local populations across about 40% of the species' range. Lead author Dr. Gilad Bino, a researcher at the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, stated that there’s a need to take action to prevent the platypus from disappearing from our waterways.

"There is an urgent need for a national risk assessment for the platypus to assess its conservation status, evaluate risks and impacts, and prioritize management in order to minimize any risk of extinction," Dr. Bino said.

Recently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) downgraded the platypus' conservation status to "Near Threatened,” following the impacts of Australia’s devastating wildfires on them. Aside from these wildfires, the region is also currently in the grips of extreme drought as well as its increasing temperature, which recently hit nearly 106 degrees Fahrenheit. The study showed that the platypus population could decline by 47% to 66% over the next 50 years with the current climatic conditions together with the impacts of human activities and other threats. 

Study co-author Brendan Wintle, a professor at the University of Melbourne, added that conservation measures should be implemented now to forestall the platypus's slide into extinction. "Even for a presumed 'safe' species such as the platypus, mitigating or even stopping threats, such as new dams, is likely to be more effective than waiting for the risk of extinction to increase and possible failure,” he said.