It may be as cute as a button, but this species of “fairy possums” is putting conservationists in a paradoxical pickle of a situation.
The Leadbeater’s possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) is native to tiny pockets of mountain ash forests within the Central Highlands of Victoria, Australia.
For many years, it has been critically endangered due to persistent threats from forest fires and logging activity. Despite the money, time, and sweat going into the conservation of these south Australian forests, the possum still seems to be on course to extinction. Statistics vary but there could be as few as 2,000 individuals left in the wild, according to the IUCN Red List.
A recent study published in PLOS One looking into the “urgent” need to conserve the species has potentially found the problem: The current areas of protected forest aren’t suitable to the particular needs of this species.
The solution, however, is not that simple. The researchers predict that catering to the possum would be highly detrimental to many of the other forest-dependent species, including multiple rare species of owl and some particularly odd gliding marsupials, like the greater glider and the yellow-bellied glider.
In an attempt to resolve the problem, researchers from the University of Melbourne have provided an action plan, which entails expanding the current nature reserves of Victoria. Only by doing this can conservations develop areas that can cater to all species. Other than that, more fundamental – and perhaps unrealistic – change is required.
"These animals have survived for 20 million years without logging but over the past 50 years they have become critically endangered because of human interference with this ecosystem," study author Professor David Lindenmayer told BBC News. "If we want to conserve all of these different animals we need to take logging out of the system."