Drying habitat is making Australia’s platypus weak, Reuters scientists say

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© Reuters. An adult male platypus named Millsom is carried by his keeper at a Melbourne animal shelter

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian scientists on Monday urged the platypus to be listed as an endangered species after a report showed the semi-aquatic native mammal’s habitat had shrunk by more than a fifth in the past 30 years.

The severe drought caused by climate change, clearing for agriculture and dam construction was to blame, said researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), who made recommendations to government scientific bodies.

“There is real concern that platypus populations will disappear from some of our rivers without returning if the rivers continue to deteriorate from droughts and dams,” said Richard Kingsford, director of the university’s Center for Ecosystem Science.

The animals that are unique to Australia cannot live outside of the water, and as the continent continues to dry and people draw more water from rivers, some permanent pools could get even smaller, he added.

The webbed duckbills lay eggs and live mainly on the east coast of Australia, from the far north of the state of Queensland to the island state of Tasmania, near rivers and streams whose beds and banks they forage for food.

Platypus numbers have more than halved over several decades, research models show, but numbers are difficult to determine because they are mysterious, nocturnal animals. The IUCN estimates that there were between 30,000 and 300,000 people in Australia in 2016.

Animals are considered to be endangered if they are exposed to a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium term, but are not considered to be threatened with extinction. Once they are on the threat list, more resources can be used to protect their habitats.

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