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Threatened Species Day, 7 September

In 1996, on the sixtieth anniversary of the last Tasmanian tiger’s death in Hobart Zoo in 1936, 7 September was declared ‘National Threatened Species Day’ — a time to reflect on what happened to the thylacine and how similar fates could await other native plants and animals unless appropriate action is taken.

Image: Numbat, Perth Zoo, Western Australia

Image: Thylacines at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, 1910.

On the same day as the Federal Elections, it is perhaps significant that conservation and biodiversity programs are at risk.

In the central highlands of Victoria, about an hour and a half drive away, are the remnant mountain ash forests where the state’s Fauna emblem lives – the endangered Leadbeaters Possum, currently being assessed for upgrading the status as critically endangered.  Who we elect to govern us after Threatened Species Day could well determine the future survival or extinction of species. 

Leadbeaters Possum, Victoria's faunal emblem, could be extinct in 20 years unless logging pressure is removed.   The Helmeted Honeyeater, our Victorian State bird emblem, is also under threat from loss of habitat.  The Yellingbo and Tonimbuk reserves (where this species lives) are slowly dying from changed water flow regimes.

Australia's landscapes and species have been severely impacted by over 200 years of habitat loss and fragmentation. The impacts of land development, introduced plants and animals, grazing, salinity, changed fire regimes, pollution, and a changing climate all place additional pressure on our threatened species and their shrinking habitats.

National lists of threatened species, threatened communities, threatening processes and the recovery plans that are supposed to underpin action are out of date and inconsistent. Too often, governments turn their failure to properly monitor species decline into an excuse to do nothing on the grounds that they do not have sufficient information.

The National Sustainability Council's 2013 report  (PDF) claimed to be unable to report on the status of species and ecosystems because the data were too poor. ( MyEnvironment )

 Conservation Council of WA Director Piers Verstegen said, “Right now, the WA Government’s logging agency is completely exempt from both State and Commonwealth laws designed to protect endangered wildlife such as numbats and black cockatoos.

“This leaves us in the appalling situation where the logging industry can clear fell whole forests with no legal protections for the endangered wildlife that depends on them for survival.

The numbat is WA’s state mammal emblem and yet there are fewer than 1,000 left in the wild , which is around half the number of surviving giant pandas. We can’t afford to lose any more numbats or black cockatoos to the highly destructive logging industry.”

Australia is grossly underfunding biodiversity conservation. The carbon pricing package that Julia Gillard negotiated with the Greens and independents included the establishment of a $1 billion fund for biodiversity programs. Rudd recently axed A$213 million for biodiversity conservation in the carbon price shake-up.

Coalition environment spokesperson Greg Hunt has announced the appointment of a Commissioner for Threatened Species if his side is elected, but no additional biodiversity funding. The Coalition is also promising to give away Commonwealth power to the states via a one-stop shop for all environmental approvals. Without power and resources, the commissioner is window-dressing.

WWF-Australia Director of Conservation Dr Gilly Llewellyn said that (2012) “It’s now over 70 years since the last Tasmanian tiger died in captivity and we are witnessing the possible winding back of crucial environmental laws, which will leave our threatened species even more vulnerable to the impacts of major projects like dams, coal-ports, mines and greenfield housing developments.”

Australia has 55 extinct animal species, 42 extinct plants and 1694 nationally threatened species. Australian species currently on the Critically Endangered list include:

• The orange-bellied parrot – reduced to less than 50 birds in the wild;
• The eastern grey nurse shark – reduced to around 500 individuals left in the wild;
• The bridled nailtail wallaby – estimated to be between 400 and 600 left in the wild;
• The speartooth shark – reduced to less than 250 individuals in the wild;
• The Gilbert's potoroo – reduced to less than 50 individuals in the wild.

Ironically, the National Threatened Species Network that inaugurated the day is itself extinct.   It was de-funded in 2006.

Since then, the federal government seems to have lost interest in threatened species. Successive state of the environment reports have highlighted the continuing decline of native plants and animals, and pointed to the glaring lack of systematic, long term monitoring – a concern echoed by the independent review of the federal environment laws.

A report in 2011 by three conservation groups, aptly titled Into Oblivion : the disappearing mammals of northern Australia, found that even in the vast and seemingly natural landscapes of northern Australia, mammals like quolls, bandicoots, possums and smaller wallabies are headed for extinction in the next 10-20 years unless we take action.

"It is now increasingly apparent that the conservation security assumed for or offered by northern Australia is rapidly eroding. Evidence of decline comes from a range of sources, including broad-scale inventory and comparison with historical records, large-scale formal monitoring programs,
extensive documentation of Indigenous knowledge, and targeted studies of individual species".

Of 1232 Australian bird species and subspecies, one-quarter would do badly when exposed to the effects of climate change later this century, the report finds.

It calls for funds now, for what would eventually be a $940 million program to safeguard birds from Cape York to Tasmania.

''A billion dollars over 50 years for conserving Australia's birds in the face of climate change is paltry compared to the cost of biodiversity loss,'' the 'Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for Australian Birds' report states.

SMH: 400 Native species in danger

 Tasmania's iconic Devils  are suffering catastrophic decline from facial tumour disease. The Great Barrier Reef is under threat of being listed as World Heritage "in danger" but the government has merely deferred, not rejected, plans for massive coal port development and dredging.

The Animal justice Party supports the establish a new and fully funded National Endangered Species Program underpinned by a National Endangered Species Recovery Fund.

In the lead up to the Federal Election the major political parties have had the opportunity to provide their responses to Humane Society International questionnaire on environmental (and animal welfare) policy matters – click here to see how they responded.  

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