Australia’s wildlife is like nothing on Earth. More than 84% of Australia’s mammals, inshore fish, and flowering plants can only be found in Australia.
But in the 200 years since Europeans settled on the land, human activity and natural disasters have led more mammals to become extinct in Australia than in any other country. Today, over 1,000 species of flora and fauna are endangered in Australia. Around one-third of those are critically endangered.
While conservationists are working hard to save the country’s endangered wildlife, fewer than 40% of threatened species have a recovery plan. The situation is becoming desperate for endemic wildlife such as the orange-bellied parrot, the Canberra Spider Orchid, and the Gilbert’s potoroo – Australia’s most endangered mammal.
We’ve created a series of posters celebrating the wildlife that Australia is in danger of losing forever. Our illustrated alphabet of endangered Australian wildlife is based on data from the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999.
A is for Armoured Mistfrog (north-east Queensland)
The elegantly named Armoured Mistfrog is one of seven critically endangered frogs in Australia. The creature grows to a maximum of 4 cm (1.5 inches) and is notable for its broad padded toes. The male’s ‘armour’ consists of spiny nuptial pads and accessory spines – for mating rather than fighting! There may be as few as 500 mistfrogs remaining, and little is known about them since they have only been observed on four occasions.
B is for Bornemissza’s Stag Beetle (north-eastern Tasmania)
The conversion of this handsome beetle’s natural forest habitat to plantation and agricultural land has significantly disrupted its lifestyle. Only five populations of the Bornemissza are known, and they live in close proximity to each other. Unfortunately, further proposed deforestation is set to separate them. The beetle is named after the Hungarian entomologist George Francis Bornemissza.
C is for Christmas Island Giant Gecko (Christmas Islands)
This ‘giant’ little gecko is endemic to Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. Four out of six reptile species native to the island are on the brink of extinction. The Giant Gecko and the little-known blind-snake are the only ones still to be found in the wild. The Giant Gecko eats small invertebrates – mostly cockroaches. But it is under threat due to invasive species such as the wolf snake and giant centipede, and possibly due to poisons used to control the yellow crazy ant population.
D is for Dibbler (Mainland Australia, and Boullanger and Whitlock Islands)
The dibbler likes to eat mice, birds, and lizards. It also likes to climb bushes to get a lick of the nectar from flowers. Unfortunately, invasive species such as foxes and cats like to eat dibblers. The dibbler became rare as long ago as the late 19th century, and there were no recorded sightings of the creature between 1904 and 1967. Today, captive dibblers are hard at work trying to regenerate their number as part of the Native Species Breeding Program at Perth Zoo.
E is for Eastern Curlew (the coastline of every state)
The world’s largest migratory shorebird has a wingspan of more than a metre and is named for the male’s mournful cry: “Cuuuurrlew!” They live in sheltered estuaries, mangrove swamps, bays, and lagoons, where they forage for crabs and molluscs to eat. They used to be hunted for food, and today the main threats to the Eastern Curlew are human disturbance, habitat loss, and pollution.
F is for Francistown Cave Cricket (southern Tasmania)
This cave-dwelling cricket can only be found within a 0.1 km2 area at Bates Creek catchment near Francistown – hence its name. Local logging and cave tourism have disrupted the welfare of the Francistown Cricket and its habitat. Not much is known about this location-specific insect, and conservationists have recommended we learn more about the creature in order to safeguard its survival.
G is for Gilbert’s Potoroo (Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve, Western Australia)
The ‘rat-kangaroo’ was discovered by John Gilbert in 1840. Rarely seen, the creature was thought extinct for over a century until she showed up in 1994 near Albany. The Potoroo lives in networks of tunnels beneath the dense shrubland and heathland on the Two Peoples reserve, where almost the entire population could be wiped out by a single wildfire. Unfortunately, Gibert’s Potoroo has resisted assisted breeding efforts. For now, conservationists are working to ‘back up’ the rare creature by introducing a small population to Bald Island.
H is for Helmeted Honeyeater (Southern central Victoria)
This bright yellow honeyeater is Victoria’s only endemic bird and is the emblem bird of the state. A black eye mask, yellow ear-tufts, and plush gold ‘helmet’ make this bird particularly distinctive – and lovable. The population hovers on the brink of extinction as a result of habitat fragmentation and habitat degradation, which are made worse during times of drought or wildfire.
I is for Isoodon Obesulus Obesulus (New South Wales and South Australia)
Around 1,000 of these fellows inhabit the area between the southern side of the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales and Kangaroo Island in South Australia. Better known as the Southern Brown Bandicoot, this marsupial works day and night to find invertebrates or fungi to eat, leaving nose-shaped scratches in the soil where it digs. Habitat loss and the introduction of red foxes, wild dogs, and cats to the area have seen this bandicoot’s number drop rapidly.
J is for Bulloak Jewel Butterfly (Queensland)
This blue-purple or lilac-winged beauty is one of the rarest butterflies in the world. It occupies a number of sites west of the Darling Downs near Leyburn and Goondiwindi. Lepidopterologists (butterfly experts) believe it has a mutual relationship with local ants, who protect its eggs when it lays them on the branches of the bull oak tree. In return, the ants seem to enjoy the sweet substances secreted by Bulloak jewel caterpillars. Its plight is due to the reduced number of bull oak trees and disruption of ant habitats and routes.
K is for Kangaroo Island Echidna (Kangaroo Island, South Australia)
This particular species of short-beaked Echidna can only be found on Kangaroo Island. Sometimes it is seen in the water around the island, as it can swim by using its snout as a snorkel. Nobody has quite defined an expected lifespan for the Kangaroo Island Echidna, but environmental physiologist Dr Peggy Rismiller has followed one individual (nicknamed ‘Big Mama’) on Kangaroo Island for nearly fifty years. Cats, feral pigs, road vehicles, and electric fences are among the threats faced by this spiky but peaceful creature.
L is for Leadbeater’s Possum
The Leadbeater is a nocturnal, tree-dwelling possum, distinctive for the dark brown stripe along its back. It lost almost half of its ideal habitat when a mountain ash forest in the Central Highlands of Victoria perished in the 2009 bushfires. The Leadbeater’s Possum was thought to be extinct until 1961 and has lost 80% of its number since the 1980s.
M is for Mary River Turtle (Queensland)
This ancient turtle seems to have split from other species as long as 40 million years ago. It looks unique and is uniquely found at Queensland’s Mary River. It can breathe underwater thanks to special glands in its cloaca orifice, earning it the nickname of ‘butt-breather.’ The Mary River turtle appears to sport stylish tufts of bright green hair on its head and face – but this is actually algae growing a result of her staying underwater for up to three days at a time.
N is for Night Parrot (western Australia)
The Night Parrot was first noted in 1845 and was feared extinct for nearly a century until wildlife photographer John Young caught one on camera in 2013. Cats and fire are the main natural enemies of this bird, who spends most of its time on the ground. The 56,000-hectare Pullen Pullen Reserve has been established to give this pretty bird a second shot at survival now we know a bit more about it.
O is for Olive Ridley Turtle (Northern Territory)
This olive-green turtle can be found in tropical waters near India, Arabia, Japan, Micronesia, and Africa, but only a few thousand still swim in Australian waters. Worldwide, this turtle’s number has fallen from more than 10 million to under one million. This is mainly due to hunting, industrial disruption to his habitat, and the warming of the oceans.
P is for Proserpine Rock-wallaby (northern Queensland)
The Proserpine rock-wallaby is mostly nocturnal, spending the day at rest in the safety of its rocky shelter. These shelters are usually home to half-a-dozen or so wallabies, although sometimes a clan of more than 30 might share a space. The creature is at risk due to residential development and tourism on its habitat. Predators, disease, and fast-moving vehicles also pose a significant threat.
Q is for Quoll (Tiger Quoll) (eastern Australia and Tasmania)
The Tiger Quoll weighs only three kilos but earns its name by virtue of having the second most powerful bite of any living mammal (relative to body size). This spotted marsupial has a fight on its paws due to predators (such as cats) and rival hunters (such as foxes). Habitat loss and fragmentation is another serious threat for the creature since it requires a wide home range and access to tree-bound prey in order to thrive.
R is for Redfin Blue Eye (central-western Queensland)
The Redfin Blue Eye is only known to live in four shallow freshwater springs at Edgbaston Reserve. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists this exquisitely coloured fish among the world’s 100 most endangered species. The Redfin’s main threat is the Eastern Gambusia fish, which seems to have spread to the Redfin’s pools during flooding. The Gambusia is also known as the mosquitofish, and it nips at the Redfin’s tales, eats their eggs, and competes with them for other food.
S is for Short-nosed Sea Snake (western Australia)
This purple-brown sea snake can spend up to two hours underwater before coming up for air. Its single lung stretches almost the entire length of its body. The Short-nose can live up to ten years, but its number is in severe decline due to global warming and industrial fishing.
T is for Tasmanian Devil (Tasmania)
The Tasmanian devil is something of a low-key celebrity thanks to Taz, the ravenous Looney Tunes cartoon character. But the creature faces a fight for survival following the development of a fatal, transmissible cancer known as Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). A Tasmanian Devil ‘Unzoo’ has been established to preserve and research the Devil, who lives only in Tasmania having disappeared from the Australian mainland 400 years ago.
U is for Underground Orchid (Between Corrigin and Babakin and northwest of Munglinup)
As the name suggests, this orchid spends its entire lifecycle underground. Rather than photosynthesis, this leafless flower depends on mycorrhizal fungi for survival. The orchid is pollinated mostly by small fungal gnats, and its seeds may be dispersed through the faeces of animals that eat the plant’s succulent fruits. The Underground Orchid is found in just two areas, 300 km apart. Drought, lack of suitable habitat, and the gap between its main populations are all factors that earned the orchid World Conservation Union Red List category ‘CR’ – meaning ‘Critically Endangered.’
V is for Variable Midge-orchid (Four locations between Chain Valley Bay and Wyong)
The Variable Midge-orchid is endemic to Australia, and only around 50 of them remain. It is very difficult to find and also tricky to identify. Habitat fragmentation and the impact of four-wheel drives and trail bikes threaten this orchid. It is also susceptible to hungry rabbits and encroaching lantana shrubs and pine wildings.
W is for Woylie (Upper Warren region east of Manjimup)
This small, kangaroo-like marsupial lives in eucalypt forests, where it might dig as much as 5 tonnes of soil per year in search of fungi to eat. Industrial agriculture has greatly reduced the Woylie’s number, with some farmers considering the creature to be a pest. “When disturbed, the explosive noise made by woylies as they bolted from the nest caused bushmen to name them ‘farting rats’,” according to one source.
X is for Xanthomyza Phrygia (southeast Australia)
Better known as the Regent Honeyeater, this brightly coloured bird has a wingspan of around 30 cm and boasts a metallic bell-like song. Its impressive appearance makes the Regent a ‘poster boy’ for conservation, and preserving its habitat will benefit many other threatened birds and animals. For now, it is at risk from habitat degradation and disturbance, competition with larger birds, and egg and nest predation.
Y is for Yaminon (southern NSW, southern Queensland, and Epping Forest National Park)
The Yaminon is the largest of the wombats. It uses its powerful claws to dig burrows more than 3 metres deep, 20m long, and half a metre wide. And it may be tank-like in appearance, but it can run at speeds of up to 40 km/h. This ‘northern hairy-nosed wombat’ survives on 12 different species of grass and has seen its number plummet as a result of overgrazing by livestock. Disease, dingoes, and lack of genetic variation pose an ongoing threat.
Z is for Zearaja Maugeana (Bathurst Harbour and Macquarie Harbour)
This fearsome-looking fish has “a broad, slightly depressed tail, an elongated snout, and spatula-like claspers,” and the male has three rows of thorns on its tail. The Maugean Skate may live for more than 15 years. But boat tourism and mining have polluted the waters where it dwells. Gillnetting is another risk, although most of the Maugean Skates caught in nets are released in a healthy state. There may be as few as 3,200 Maugean Skates remaining.
Australia’s unique climate and history have developed an extraordinary range of weird and wonderful animals and plants. However, protecting this endangered wildlife is a challenge. If you’re wanting to protect your dog or cat you can easily get pet insurance but how do you get cover for a Francistown Cave Cricket?
The country’s most endangered wildlife is going to need a lot of help to survive the impact of colonization and the ravages of nature. So, please share your favourite endangered species poster to help bring attention to the cause.
Species Profile and Threats Database. (2019). EPBC Act List of Threatened Fauna. environment.gov.au
International Union for Conservation of Nature. (2019). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. iucn.org
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