March 28, 2006
Only one member of the endangered possum species that is Victoria's state faunal emblem remains in captivity after its mate died in a Melbourne sanctuary.
Leadbeater's possum, which lives in the mountain ash forests of the state's central highlands, was considered extinct until it was rediscovered in 1961 and a successful captive breeding program started.
But the death of the second-last Leadbeater's possum at the Healesville Sanctuary has ended that program, author Peter Preuss said yesterday.
Mr Preuss, the biographer of the late amateur naturalist Des Hackett, said Mr Hackett had remarkable results breeding the possums in captivity. By the 1980s he was able to hand over breeding colonies to zoos throughout Australia, with the hope the offspring could one day be released in the wild.
"Unfortunately, the Leadbeater's possum is a very politically sensitive animal," he said. "Because their natural range is almost exclusively within Victoria's timber harvesting areas, Leadbeater's possums were never released. Instead, colonies were exported to zoos throughout the world."
"Today, there are just 1000 left in the wild and only one lonely individual remains in captivity (in Victoria)," he said.