Platypus populations across Australia under pressure with calls for more protection


New research has revealed one of Australia’s most iconic animals, the platypus, faces a bleak future with declining numbers prompting academics to call for their protection status to be upgraded.

Scientists at the University of NSW said the number of platypuses in Australia has dropped by a third in the past 200 years.

The team working on the Australian Research Council project spent 200 nights examining 300 kilometres of eastern Australian rivers from Queensland to Tasmania.

Professor Richard Kingsford, who led the project, described the results as “worrying”.

“We’ve gone from probably 300,000 to around 200,000 which is a 30 per cent drop [and] very worrying in 200 years,” he said.

The scientists claimed platypus habitats have been destroyed by land clearing, pollution and dam building.

They said the species’ declining population was also being affected, as platypuses can get caught in yabbie traps.

The scientists have now demanded the “Opera House” yabbie trap be outlawed.

“Essentially they’re a trap that sits on the bottom of the river, they attract yabbies which also platypus love, so they’ll go in after them and they can’t get out … they drown,” Professor Kingsford said.

“We cannot afford as a world — let alone Australia — to let this animal go extinct and we know that it’s gone extinct in some areas already.”

The researches are calling platypuses’ protection status to be elevated from near-threatened to vulnerable.

The NSW Government is now considering whether to phase out yabbie traps and is in discussion with stakeholders.

A thriving population just south of Sydney

But on the Kangaroo River in the Illawarra, the results are not as bleak.

The last three years in this area have been promising and only minutes after they have laid their first trap a ripple alerts them to a platypus in the net.

The healthy female is put in a pillow case to replicate the burrow before it is taken away to a platypus field hospital for processing.

There the animals are anaesthetised while genetic testing is done, fur samples are taken and even their diet is analysed.

“We put them to sleep and we take measurements and tag them to better understand their health and get a bit more understanding about the demographics,” Dr Gilad Bino said.

As the team wrap up their surveys on the Kangaroo River in the small hours of the morning, they are buoyed by the good results — they have caught four platypus in just over two hours showing a healthy river system.

Researchers said it was catching platypuses that made the long hours worth it.