Climate emergency: Duck-billed platypus could face extinction due to droughts

Harry Cockburn
Scientists are calling for greater protection for the duck-billed platypus which lives in eastern Australia's rivers: Getty

The climate catastrophe unfolding in Australia is taking a severe toll on wildlife as record-breaking heatwaves and uncontrollable wildfires are edging many threatened species closer to extinction.

The duck-billed platypus is the latest rare creature over which there is now serious concern, scientists have said.

The animal, which is found in eastern Australia’s river systems, has already disappeared from 40 per cent of its range, due to droughts, pollution, land clearances and the building of dams.

Scientists from the University of New South Wales’​ Centre for Ecosystem Science said that if the current threats to the animal from climate change remain, platypus numbers will collapse by up to 66 per cent in the next 50 years, and by 73 per cent by 2070.

The duck-billed platypus is already listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Recent damage to river systems due to consecutive years of little rainfall and high temperatures have worsened prospects for the animal.

“These dangers further expose the platypus to even worse local extinctions, with no capacity to repopulate areas,” Gilad Bino, lead author of the study, said, according to AFP.

The study says there is now an “urgent need” for a national risk assessment to determine whether the animal should be downgraded to “vulnerable” status and to then lay out conservation steps “to minimise any risk of extinction”.

The survey estimates the world’s total duck-billed platypus population has fallen by 50 per cent since European settlement of Australasia just two centuries ago, and the outlook remains very poor.

“Under predicted climate change, the losses forecast were far greater because of increases in extreme drought frequencies and duration, such as the current dry spell,” Dr Bino said of the latest report.

The study calls for “increasing surveys, tracking trends, mitigating threats and improving management of platypus habitat in rivers.”

Due to its very unusual combination of physical features, when sketches of the duck-billed platypus were first seen by western scientists in 1798, and a pelt was sent to the UK, it was believed to be a hoax, and that a duck’s bill had been sewn onto the body of a beaver-like creature.

The species was subsequently hunted for its fur until the 20th century.

The research is published in the journal Biological Conservation.