By Arthur F. Beaugard
At Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in Australia, a combination of wildfires ravaging the nation and shrinking pools of water spelt doom for the Platypuses living there. The three-year drought and fires scorching the East are destroying the Land Down Under, including the Platypuses’ home, which has led scientists from the University of New South Wales and the University of Melbourne to conclude that their numbers could decrease by 73% within the next 50 years.
Platypuses are furry mammalian creatures who lay eggs, have flippers, tails, and bills despite the fact that they are not ducks. The slippery, extremely shy creatures also have sharp, venomous spurs behind one of their hind feet (which is not lethal to humans, but very painful). All of their relatives lie dead, with only faint traces of them indicating their existence in the fossil record leaving the platypus to fend for themselves in a desperate battle for survival– one that they are losing. Scientists from New South Wales also discovered that platypuses have abandoned what was once 41% of their previous range, with Southernmost Australia, in particular, seeing Platypuses almost entirely disappear.
Besides fire and drought, other constant, long-standing threats to their environment with no end in sight would include land clearing, predation, and invasive species. These invasive species would be feral cats and dogs which were brought to their habitat in the 19th century by European conquerors who also spent many platypuses’ plush pelts and lives on slippers and rugs. These factors have led to the weakening and eventual collapse of many platypus habitats, although they were saved from near extinction by a 1974 act which made hunting platypuses illegal. However, invasive species and other factors still affect them and much of Australia’s wildlife, giving it one of the worst mammal extinction rates in the world and doing away with the sights of yore such as pools of platypuses preparing to migrate. In the present, one could never see as many of the furry beasts.
The loss of the platypus would not only be a massive loss for the natural beauty of the Earth but a missed opportunity considering many scientists believe that platypuses may contain new insights into how to combat Type 2 Diabetes. The Australian government has recently banned the use of fishing nets in freshwater rivers and creeks to protect platypuses but this does not seem to be enough to outweigh all the threats they face. As of late, it has often been said that we are now going the Anthropocene extinction, as in a mass extinction caused by humans, and it appears as though the Platypus could be our next victim if we are not careful. At least 150 species go extinct every day.
Sullivan, Helen, and David Maurice Smith. “The Plight of the Platypus.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Feb. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/02/04/science/platypus-australia-wildfires.html?action=click&module=Top Stories&pgtype=Homepage.
“Why Endangered?” The Duck-Billed Platypus, 21 May 2014, theduckbilledplatypus.wordpress.com/why-endangered/.