Western pygmy possums are tiny arboreal Australian marsupials. You might not have heard of them, and you’ve almost certainly never seen one in the wild. Yet there is increasing momentum in South Australia to help protect these endangered creatures.
Western pygmy possums (Cercartetus concinnus) are found in patchy distributions across southern Australia. With an average weight of about 13 grams, and body length no longer than 10 cm, it’s no surprise that there’s still a lot we don’t know about the status of these elusive creatures.
Like other possums, they’re nocturnal, spending the day snoozing in their nests and the night hunting for nectar and small invertebrates to eat. Their endangered status is a result primarily of land clearance, which has greatly reduced woodlands and tree hollows available for nests, as well as depleting food resources. Introduced predators like cats and foxes also pose threats.
Over the past few months I’ve been involved in planning a project that aims to find out if western pygmy possums are still present in the Adelaide Hills, and if so, to gain information about their abundance, distribution and ecology. A group of us recently headed out to see a successful project in action.
We met with Dr Elisa Sparrow, who runs a monitoring program on the Fleurieu Peninsula. So far, they’ve installed around 90 nest boxes, which are providing the opportunity to monitor what’s living inside, as well as provide some additional “hollow” habitats.
And it’s good news!!
Both pygmy possum mothers and babies were moving into the boxes after only 4 weeks, and have been breeding prolifically since. It’s a fantastic discovery for the survival of this adorable species. As the study continues, it should place ecologists in a better position to continue to protect possum populations on the Fleurieu, and to help inform safe land management practices, particularly with regard to prescribed burns.
So using the Fleurieu study as an example, we hope to know by early next year whether these adorable little guys have persisted in the Adelaide Hills. I’ll keep you updated -fingers crossed they have!