KEY POINTS

  • Researchers found a decline in platypus population and habitats
  • The declines may continue in the future because of persistent threats to the species
  • They recommend officially listing platypuses as "vulnerable" to protect them

Scientists have recommended listing platypuses as a "threatened species" after learning that their population and habitats are shrinking.

Platypuses, iconic for their duck-like bill and strange cuteness, are facing an increasing number of threats, such as extreme droughts, climate change, and land clearing.

The species was included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as "lower risk/least concern" in 1996. By 2016, however, platypuses were considered "near threatened," a new report on the conservation status of platypuses notes.

Under Australia's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, platypuses are listed as endangered in South Australia.

To determine the state of platypuses, a team of scientists collected all the available data from multiple sources and assessed the species' risk of extinction.

Unfortunately, the researchers found declines in both the places where platypuses live and in the number of platypus sitings. Specifically, the researchers found that the areas where platypuses can be found shrunk by 22% in the last 30 years. According to the statement from the Australian Conservation Foundation, that's about 200,000 square kilometers or about the size of Tasmania.

As for the declines in platypus occurrence, the "worst" data came from  New South Wales and Queensland, where platypus occurrence declined by 32% and 27%, respectively. In the state of Victoria, where the overall decline was about 7%, the researchers still detected 54%-65% declines in some catchments, according to the report, released by the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

Platypus Pictured: Representative image of a swimming platypus. Photo: Pixabay

"Based on our assessment, there is evidence of past and projected declines in platypus populations which support the listing of the platypus as Vulnerable under the IUCN Red List and the EPBC Act 1999," the researchers wrote. 

Simply put, evidence shows that platypus populations have already declined in the past few years and will likely continue to do so since threats to the species have not ceased. The researchers propose listing platypuses under the "vulnerable" category, both in the IUCN Red List and the EPBC Act.

According to the IUCN, a species is considered to be threatened if they are listed as "critically endangered," "endangered" or "vulnerable." This means that the species with these designations are already threatened with global extinction.

As the UNSW news release explained, having platypuses listed as a threatened species means that monitoring them would be a priority. There would also be regulations on developments that could potentially threaten the species.

"We have a national and international responsibility to look after this unique animal and the signs are not good," a lead author of the study, Prof. Richard Kingsford, said in the UNSW report. "Platypus are [sic] declining and we need to do something about threats to the species before it is too late."