New government fund to stem Australian extinctions

By Natsumi Penberthy | November 18, 2014

On the day an updated Red List of endangered species is published, Australia announces a bold new conservation initiative in national parks

AN EXTRA $2 million will be funnelled to 10 threatened species projects in Australian national parks, federal Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt announced yesterday.

The projects will focus on areas where extinction risks are high, and look in particular at creating refuges for threatened species, fire management and feral species eradication, particularly on islands.

Among the projects are plans to reintroduce ‘toad smart’ northern quolls, trained not to eat toxic cane toads, to Kakadu National Park; erradicate feral cats on Christmas Island; and work on improving the recovery plans for threatened plants.

Gregory Andrews, appointed as the government’s Threatened Species Commissioner in July, said the money is “really focusing on tackling the key threats, avoiding extinction of multiple species, and securing the investments we’re making, and also building on the successes”.

Ending mammal extinctions by 2020

Minister Hunt launched the project at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney. He indicated that the new initiative, in line with the targets set at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Japan in 2010, was part of his commitment “to ending the loss of mammal species by 2020”. But environmental groups have already argued that achieving this goal is unlikely.

“There would need to be a sort of quantum leap in investment to get there from what is happening currently, not only with government investment but non-government investment,” says Philippa Walsh, executive manager of conservation group Bush Heritage Australia.

Nevertheless, she says that: “$2 million across 10 projects does give you something to work with and should get you some tangible results.”  

Dr Barry Traill, a director at conservation NGO, the Pew Charitable Trusts, agrees, saying that it will make a real difference in the federal parks system. “The projects are all dealing very directly with extinction,” he says.

He’s particularly excited about what he sees as a “new formula” that some of the projects address around controlling the interaction between fire and feral cats.

Many small mammals at risk are in the size range most vulnerable to predation by felines. Tackling feral cats is the key to stemming mammal extinctions Barry says, and because cats are attracted to fauna fleeing fires, we need to work on building more moderate fire regimes in sensitive areas. 

In particular this will benefit Kakadu National Park, where mammal extinctions have been high and where four of the 10 new projects are based.

Updates to the IUCN Red List

Yesterday the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also released an update of their Red List of Threatened Species, which catalogues species under threat of extinction worldwide. 

The updated list added a number of Australian species including the spectacular Mount Kaputar pink slug from central New South Wales, which has been added to the endangered category due to range restrictions and habitat loss.

NSW’s black grass-dart butterfly also entered as endangered – its habitat on the northern NSW coast under pressure from introduced weeds and development.

Overall this year’s update underlined the plight of ocean fishes, with fishing pressures seeing the Pacific bluefin tuna moving from the category of least concern to vulnerable.

Over-exploitation for sashimi has also meant the Chinese pufferfish entered the list as critically endangered. Its population is estimated to have declined by 99.99 per cent over the last four decades.

At the launch, Dr Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, noted that in Australia – as in many nations – the problem of extinction was getting worse, not better. But he applauded the “quite radical” commitment made by a number of nations at 2010’s Convention on Biological Diversity, to attempt to eradicate extinctions by 2020.