SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian scientists have called for the platypus to be listed as a vulnerable species in Victoria state, after research found dwindling numbers of the semi-aquatic mammal because of loss of habitat and a warming climate.
Ecologist Joshua Griffiths, who supervised the collection of data that led to the recommendation by a scientific advisory panel, said the platypus population across the state had likely fallen by about 30% in the last 20 to 30 years.
"We have seen major declines in population in Victoria's western regions, localised extinctions and the kind of things that are affecting the platypuses are going to increase in future," Griffiths told Reuters.
Land-clearing for agriculture, mining and forestry had been the biggest factor in the destruction of habitat over several decades but last summer's bushfires have greatly compounded the impact.
"A lot of that area got burned by the recent bushfires, so the situation could actually be worse than what we think at the moment," he said.
The bushfires, which lasted from September last year until February, killed nearly 3 billion koalas, kangaroos and other Australian animals and destroyed a wilderness area the size of South Korea.
A vulnerable tag is given to animals that face a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term, though are not considered critically endangered.
Once on the vulnerable list, the government can deploy more resources to protect the animal's habitat.
Each state in Australia makes their own classifications of vulnerable or endangered. The platypus is already listed as endangered in South Australia.
The strange-looking, duck-billed animals with webbed feet that lay eggs are mostly seen across Australia's eastern seaboard, from the far north of Queensland state to the island state of Tasmania.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Karishma Singh)