The Seventeen Species Of Marsupials On The Brink Of Extinction

The Leadbeater's Possum is a critically endangered marsupial that is endemic to Australia.
The Leadbeater's Possum is a critically endangered marsupial that is endemic to Australia.

Mammals belonging to the Marsupialia infraclass are known as marsupials. This group of mammals has the common distinctive characteristic of carrying and nursing their young ones in a specialized abdominal pouch. The marsupials are found only in the Americas and Australasia. Some common examples of marsupials are kangaroos, koalas, possums, wombats, etc. Several species of marsupials are currently on the verge of extinction due to adverse anthropogenic effects on their populations. These species are as follows:

17. Talaud Bear Cuscus

The Ailurops melanotis is a Critically Endangered marsupial that is endemic to Indonesia. It inhabits the primary and degraded forests and gardens within its range which is restricted to the Salibabu and Sangihe islands in the country. The species is heavily hunted. It is also suffering from habitat loss and degradation.

16. Woylie

The Bettongia penicillata was formerly found across large areas in semi-arid and arid Australia. However, the introduction of the feral cat and the red fox resulted in a large-scale decrease in woyli populations in Australia due to predation pressures. Exotic diseases could also be responsible for the recent crash in woyli populations.

15. Mountain Pygmy Possum

The Burramys parvus is a critically endangered marsupial that is found only in south-eastern Australia. Three genetically distinct populations of this species are found here. It is the only mammal in Australia that lives in the alpine environments only. The total population of this possum is estimated to be about 500 adult males and 1,700 adult females. Since the possum has a highly restricted habitat, the construction of roads, dams, and infrastructures of the skiing industry have affected the survival of these animals in an adverse manner. Predation by the introduced red fox is also another factor responsible for the responsible population of this species. Global warming is believed to worsen the situation for this species in the near future.

14. Golden-Mantled Tree-Kangaroo

The Dendrolagus pulcherrimus is endemic to New Guinea and has suffered a 90% population reduction in the past 30 years. The kangaroo which lives in mid-montane rainforests was historically subjected to threats from hunting for food and loss of habitat due to the clearing of land for agriculture. However, the threats to this species have now declined significantly and populations are gradually recovering.

13. Tenkile

The Dendrolagus scottae is endemic to Papua New Guinea where it has an extremely restricted range on some of the mountain ranges of the country. Its habitat includes mainly montane tropical forests. The size of the subpopulations of this species is estimated to be less than 250 individuals. Hunting by humans for food and habitat loss are the biggest threats to this species.

12. Black Dorcopsis

The Dorcopsis atrata is endemic to New Guinea’s Goodenough Island where it inhabits montane tropical oak forests with thick ground cover. Unfortunately, the forest habitat of this species is being rapidly cleared for agriculture and grazing activities. There are also reports of people hunting this animal using dogs.

11. Leadbeater's Possum

The Gymnobelideus leadbeateri is a critically endangered marsupial that is endemic to Australia. The range of this species is currently restricted to central Victoria. These animals are highly dependent on tree hollows for nesting and thus occur in forests with an ample supply of old trees with hollows. Their diet primarily comprises of exudates from trees and occasionally arthropods. Since the species needs old hollow trees for their survival, deforestation due to wildfires and timber harvesting greatly affects their survival. Currently, the population of the species is small and declining rapidly.

10. Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat

Endemic to Australia, the Lasiorhinus krefftii is currently found only in the Epping Forest National Park in Queensland. The total population of the species is about 115 individuals. These wombats require deep alluvial soils to dig their burrows and perennial native grasses for feeding. However, destruction of their habitat, the introduction of non-native invasive species, competition with livestock, and introduced predators all serve to threaten the population of this species. The small population and the highly restricted range also makes the northern hairy-nosed wombat highly susceptible to local catastrophes.

9. Handley's Slender Opossum

The Marmosops handleyi is a marsupial species nearing extinction due to its highly restricted habitat whose extent and quality is rapidly declining. Not much is known about the exact population size of this species but it is known to live in Antioquia, Colombia where it occupies tropical rainforests. The forests inhabited by the species have been indiscriminately destroyed in recent years for agriculture and livestock grazing activities.

8. One-Striped Opossum

The Monodelphis unistriata is a possibly extinct species that is still labeled as Critically Endangered due to its uncertain distribution. This marsupial lives in parts of Argentina and Brazil. Very little is known about this animal and loss of habitat is considered to be the biggest threat to this species.

7. Northern Glider

Petaurus abidi is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN for a number of reasons. First of all, the range of this species is highly restricted to less than 100 square km. Deforestation and hunting the species for meat also threaten the survival of the species. The species is extremely rare and only seven specimens have been studied across a span of 30 years. The Northern glider is found in parts of northwestern Papua New Guinea.

6. Telefomin Cuscus

The Phalanger matanim is possibly extinct but is still listed as Critically Endangered with the hope that it might continue to survive in some potential locations outside its known habitat which was completely destroyed by a raging fire during an El Niño event in 1998. The possum is endemic to the island of New Guinea. Even if the species survive, the population is estimated to be less than 50 mature individuals and threatened by hunting and habitat loss.

5. Gilbert's Potoroo

The Potorous gilbertii is the most threatened marsupial of Australia. Only a single, small population of the species is known to exist today on Mount Gardner in Western Australia. It has also been re-introduced in some protected areas of the country. Estimates of 2015 suggest that the population of the species is only about 50 individuals. These animals live in long-unburnt heathlands with dense vegetation growth. They feed almost entirely on fungi. The biggest reason for the decline of the population of this species was predation by feral cats and red foxes. Fires have also triggered the death of many of these animals and a future large fire could exterminate the species completely.

4. Kangaroo Island Dunnart

The Sminthopsis aitkeni has a highly restricted extent of occurrence of less than 100 square km. It is endemic to South Australia’s Kangaroo Island. Although little has been studied about this species due to its low numbers, the last estimate suggests the population of the species to be around a hundred individuals. Wildfires are the single biggest threat to this species and a single big fire could eliminate the entire species. The other significant threat to the dunnart comes from a water mold that is destroying the native vegetation of the habitat in which the dunnart survives. Predation by cats could also reduce the population of the species.

3. Black-Spotted Cuscus

The Spilocuscus rufoniger lives in northern New Guinea where it is patchily distributed. Overhunting has extirpated the species from large parts of its range. Since the species is wary of human disturbances in its habitat, large-scale entry of humans in the forests where these animals live has also caused a decline in the population of this species.

2. Blue-Eyed Spotted Cuscus

The Spilocuscus wilsoni is also one of the world’s most threatened marsupials. It is endemic to Indonesia’s Biak and Supiori islands. This critically endangered species live in the lowland tropical moist forests of its habitat. Rapid deforestation, hunting for meat, and capture as pets threaten the future survival of the species. The population of the species has gone down by more than 80% in the last 10 years.

1. Wondiwoi Tree-Kangaroo

The Dendrolagus mayri is listed as a Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) species by the IUCN. It is believed that even if the species survives, the population must be extremely small. Human knowledge about this species is limited to a single specimen that was collected in 1928 in Indonesia’s Wondiwoi Peninsula. Hunting is believed to have been the biggest cause of loss of this species.


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