Micro-chip technology and a specially constructed network of boulders and purpose-built alpine tunnels are delivering new hope and fascinating insights into a species so secretive that it was thought extinct in the 1960’s.
The Mountain Pygmy Possum, Australia’s only hibernating marsupial, can ‘sleep’ for up to seven months beneath Alpine snows and was one of the priority species identified by the Bushfire Expert Panel as being in urgent need of management intervention following the black summer bushfires.
As the possums prepare to come out of hibernation in 2021, newly released data from earlier this year, shows more possums carrying young in their pouches and more than 30 possums using one of the safe tunnels purpose-built for them beneath Victoria’s Great Alpine Road.
Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said that microchip readers at each end of the Little Higginbotham tunnel showed the importance of a five-year alpine recovery project that includes camera monitoring, genetic analyses, habitat improvements through boulder placement and revegetation, and safe travel corridors, supported by a $1.62 million investment through the Morrison Government’s National Landcare program.
“As part of our $200 million Bushfire Recovery funding for native wildlife and habitat, we are also funding the emergency provision of supplementary food and water, feral animal and weed control, habitat protection as well as other on ground actions.
“$350,000 is funding construction of a Mountain Pygmy-possum facility at Healesville Sanctuary that recreates alpine conditions to support a captive breeding program.
“Our National Environmental Science Program (NESP) is also driving research on the possums’ main food source, bogong moths, and testing the benefits of a genetic rescue strategy in fragmented possum populations.”
The alpine recovery project is being delivered by the North East Catchment Management Authority in partnership with Parks Victoria, Mount Hotham Alpine Resort Management Board, Falls Creek Resort Management Board, traditional owners and the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, with additional funding from the Australian Heritage Grants Program. Since 2015, the Australian Government has committed a total of $4.65 million on projects that provide support to the Mountain Pygmy-possum.