16 April, 2006

ARTICLE: Death puts spotlight on Leadbeater plight

John Elder
The Sunday Age , April 16 2006

Leadbeater's possum was once the tiny comeback kid of Australian wildlife.

Thought to have vanished, the possum was rediscovered alive and struggling in 1961. Ten years later it was made the faunal emblem of Victoria. Now it looks as if we will have to find a new one.

The death of the last Leadbeater in captivity, which was announced yesterday, means the little possum is no longer a promise and symbol of life renewed. In the wild, there are thought to be only a 1000 left.

In what appears to be a last-ditch stand, author Peter Preuss is calling for co-operative effort by Victoria's zoos, the timber industry and the State Government to relaunch a possum breeding program.

Preuss is the biographer of late amateur naturalist Des Hackett, who successfully bred the possums in captivity.

He said efforts to revive the possum's population faltered after Mr Hackett died in 1997, and today the possum's natural habitat was under threat from logging.

Preuss said the last possums in the wild lived in a 50-square-kilometre area in Victoria's central highlands - the mountain ash forests around Noojee, Powelltown, Marysville and Warburton.

In one positive sign, he said possum numbers were increasing in the Yellingbo Nature Reserve, an area of swamp and forest protected for the helmeted honey-eater, Victoria's bird emblem.

"This shows the possums can survive if we give them some nesting boxes," he said.

A spokesman for Healesville Sanctuary yesterday confirmed that the last captive possum, a male, died on Monday, following the death of its female mate last month. The pair had become too old to breed.

With AAP

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