Duck-billed platypus on brink of extinction due to climate change, scientists warn

Duck-billed platypus are close to extinction (Picture: SWNS)

The duck-billed platypus is close to being wiped out permanently partly due to climate change, scientists have warned.

Increasing numbers of the unique animal are becoming stranded as rivers dry up, according to new research.

Australia's devastating drought is currently having a critical impact on the venomous egg-laying mammal, which is listed as “endangered” in the country.

Lead author of the research Dr Gilad Bino, of New South Wales University (UNSW), says action must be taken to save the platypus.

The platypus is being threatened by climate change (Picture: SWNS)

The conservation biologist said: "There is an urgent need for a national risk assessment for the platypus to assess its conservation status, evaluate risks and impacts and prioritise management in order to minimise any risk of extinction."

Despite being secretive and nocturnal, platypuses were once considered widespread across eastern Australia and Tasmania.

Now the most extensive analysis to date has found for the first time they are close to extinction.

The species faces several threats including water resource development, land clearing, global warming and increasingly severe droughts.

The duck-billed platypus is listed as endangered in Australia (Picture: Reuters)

Numbers have almost halved due to current climate conditions, land clearing and fragmentation by dams.

This has led to local populations completely vanishing across about 40% of their range – reflecting ongoing declines since European colonisation.

Losses will be far greater under predicted climate change models because of more frequent and longer extreme droughts, according to the report.

Dr Bino added: "These dangers further expose the platypus to even worse local extinctions with no capacity to repopulate areas."

The study published in Biological Conservation shows the platypus will decline by around three quarters in the next 50 years.

It is already listed as "near threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Co-author Professor Richard Kingsford, director of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, said it was unfortunate that platypuses live in areas undergoing extensive human development threatening their lives and long-term viability.

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He said: "These include dams that stop their movements, agriculture which can destroy their burrows, fishing gear and yabby (crayfish) traps which can drown them and invasive foxes which can kill them."

Co-author Prof Brendan Wintle, of Melbourne University, added it was important that preventative measures were taken now.

Dr Bino’s team is continuing to research the ecology and conservation of this enigmatic animal, collaborating with the Taronga Conservation Society, to ensure its future by providing information for effective policy and management.