by Erika Zambello, based on an article by Alex Mullarky.
Alex Mullarky was in the depths of Australia’s Toolangi Forest, part of a citizen science group sweeping the inky shadows with headlamps and infrared cameras. They spotted sleeping birds, a greater glider, a mountain brushtail possum, but their eyes were constantly looking for one, specific species: a Leadbeater’s Possum.
Mullarky’s walk was part of a tour organized by WOTCH: Wildlife of the Central Highlands. She writes: “Also known as the fairy possum, the Leadbeater’s possum is a tiny tree-dwelling marsupial that weighs no more than 165 grams at maturity and has a tail almost as long as its body. By the 1950s the species was believed to be extinct, but it was amazingly rediscovered in 1961. Still on the brink, the Leadbeater’s possum is now listed as critically endangered. Estimates place the population at around 3,000 animals, but, despite a captive breeding program, their numbers are believed to be in steep decline.”
Because this possum needs old-growth trees with hollows to survive, logging of these trees negatively affects their population numbers. WOTCH has stepped in to monitor the Leadbeater’s possum.
Mullarky spoke to members of WOTCH during her night walk: ” ‘WOTCH’s mission has evolved over time,’ one volunteer, Tegan, explains. ‘Initially [it began] with a few passionate individuals who wanted to record a collection of images, videos and accounts of wildlife sighted within logging coupes of the Central Highlands before the logging destroyed their habitat. Since then we have evolved to actively survey for wildlife within the Central Highlands, using scientific methods to try to protect our native forests from unsustainable logging.’ ”
What happens when they spot a Leadbeater’s possum? “Because of its endangered status, seeing even a single Leadbeater’s possum in an area means that part of the coupe cannot be logged.”
Since their work officially began in 2014, WOTCH has made measurable progress to protect the possum. Mullarky summarizes, “The dedication of WOTCH volunteers has already had a positive effect on the forest they care so deeply about. As Emma Chessell explains, ‘Our survey work has a very direct impact on forest protection. For each official Leadbeater’s possum sighting, a 200 meter buffer of forest is reserved as habitat. Our surveys in 2016 protected over 1,000 hectares of prime Leadbeater’s habitat in this way. This supports other species as well, because the hollows and connected understory used by Leadbeater’s possums also support many other species.’ ”
To read more about the WOTCH night surveys in Mullarky’s full article on VoicesforBiodiversity.org. All photos owned and used with permission from WOTCH.
Alex Mullarky is a writer and environmentalist from the UK who has called Melbourne home since 2014. She is a graduate of English Literature and is particularly interested in the connection between language and landscape. You can find her on Twitter at @saesteorra
Erika Zambello is a writer and photographer currently living on the Emerald Coast of Florida. She has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Management from the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment, where she specialized in Ecosystem Science and Conservation. She is also a National Geographic Young Explorer, completing four trips to the Maine North Woods in each of the four seasons, Fall 2015-Summer 2016.
In addition to acting as the sole blogger for the entire Florida State Park system, she is a regular contributor to the Duke Nicholas School, the Maine Sportsman, Bangor Daily News, and 10000 Birds. In the past she has written for The Conservation Fund, the Triangle Land Conservancy, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, BirdWatching Daily, and the Florida Sportsman. Finally, she is the founder and managing editor of the travel website One World, Two Feet, as well as the co-managing editor for the award-winning online magazine Voices for Biodiversity.
Follow her daily adventures on Instagram, or zambellophotography.com.