If you're going to be critically endangered as a species, it helps to be cute. And these mountain pygmy possums are proving they are just too adorable to lose.
Mountain pygmy possums (Burramys parvus) are Australia's only hibernating marsupial. There are less than 2,000 left in the wild, and with populations restricted to three widely separated districts in the Great Dividing Range inbreeding is a threat.
In 2003, bushfires devastated a large part of their habitat not already destroyed by the construction of infrastructure for the region's downhill skiiing industry. Being an alpine species, the mountain pygmy possum is particularly vulnerable to Global Warming. As the climate warms, many species will move to higher country or towards the poles, but for species occupying the tops of mountains there is literally nowhere to go.
But two things offer hope for the pygmy possums. Their small size means the facilities required to maintain a captive breeding program can also be manageably small, and they are so gorgeous lots of people want to assist. Since 2007, Zoos Victoria have been running a Recovery Program with a breeding population of around 50 possums, and have succeeded in producing at least one litter every year since 2009. The photo above is of this year's photogenic bunch, who can be viewed at Healesville Sanctuary.
Some years ago, University of Melbourne researchers played matchmaker, taking a bunch of males from Mount Hotham to Mount Buller to maintain genetic variation. The effort, which produced at least eight babies in the first year, was the first attempt at such a technique for divided populations of an endangered species in Australia.
This 2012 Zoos Victoria video explains the threats in more detail. That is, if you can concentrate over all the images of baby possums being adorable.
And if that isn't enough for you, you can adopt one for $15 a month and stay updated on all their doings.
Believe it or not, mountain pygmy possums are the largest of the five species of pygmy possums, so there are four even smaller relatives out there, none of which are endangered.