Animals and plants are going extinct 10,000 times more frequently than they should be. At least 100 species have gone extinct since Australia was colonised, and over 2000 more are sitting on our threatened species list facing the same fate. The reason for this extreme extinction? Us. Because we are bulldozing habitat, allowing invasive species to ravage native landscapes, and pushing global temperatures to new extremes.

Earlier this year correspondence from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee revealed 5 species at immediate risk of extinction. Other Australian research has identified 47 vertebrates at imperiled risk of extinction, and 20 reptiles likely to go extinct by 2040.

This threatened species day we are highlighting an iconic species facing extinction in each State and Territory. Taking action isn’t always easy so it’s important to remind ourselves what’s at stake in our fight to protect nature.

Australian Capital Territory - Canberra grassland earless dragon

Earless Dragon

Canberra grassland earless dragon. Photo: John Wombey, CSIRO

Although many associate the nation's capital with politicians and public servants, it is more significantly home to some of the last natural temperate grasslands left in Australia. With less than 1% of this habitat remaining, the ACT plays a critical role in supporting grassland species, many of which are on the brink of extinction including the Canberra grassland earless dragon.

Known in only three remaining locations, the Canberra grassland earless dragon has been recognised as a species for priority protection by the Federal Environment Minister. With less than 1% of their habitat remaining, there are still proposals being considered to destroy what’s left of their remaining grassland homes.

As the name suggests, they are grassland specialists and, unlike most other lizards, they don’t have external ear openings. They are usually light brown in colour with thin white stripes and darker bands running across their bodies. The dragons are capable of breeding the year they are born, and wild dragons likely only breed once in their lifetime. They eat small insects including ants and spiders, playing an important role in maintaining the balance of their grassland homes.

New South Wales - Southern corroboree frog

Southern corroboree frog

Southern corroboree frog

Known for their iconic black and yellow markings - the southern corroboree frog only exists in Kosciuszko National Park. It has no natural predators owing to the fact that it oozes toxin from its skin - however it has been pushed to the brink of extinction by impacts such as climate change, fire, feral animals, habitat disturbance and chytrid fungus.

The greatest threat to the southern corroboree frog is the fungus which has already rendered seven Australian frog species extinct. Since the fungus arrived in Australia in the 1980’s, southern corroboree frog populations have plummeted by more than 99%. In 2014, the entire population of southern corroboree frogs was estimated to be less than 50 wild individuals, and today they face approximately a 30% chance of extinction by 2041.

They may be small, but southern corroboree frogs play an important role in their alpine homes by removing algae in alpine ponds and bogs. By keeping the water clean the southern corroboree frog helps to support many other species in the alpine environment. 

Victoria - Leadbeater's possum

Leadbeater's possum

Leadbeater's possum. Photo: Dan Harley

The Leadbeater’s possum was thought to be extinct for over 50 years but was rediscovered in a forest in Marysville in 1961. The State was absolutely besotted with the tiny marsupial and declared it one of their faunal emblems a decade later.

It’s easy to see why the Leadbeater’s possum captured hearts so quickly. Weighing in at only 135 grams, these tiny possums are known to flit across treetops in Victoria's Ash forests and subalpine woodlands earning themselves the nickname “forest fairies”. They typically have grey-brown fur with a dark stripe that runs down their backs along their very long tail.

Leadbeater’s possums have been pushed to the brink of extinction from habitat destruction driven by the Victorian logging industry. The possums build their nests in mature tree hollows, which can take up to 150 years to form. As an alpine species they are also particularly sensitive to the impacts of climate change and will face increased pressure as fires and floods threaten what’s remaining of their habitat.

This tiny precious possum was identified as the 6th most at risk Australian mammal with approximately a 10% chance of extinction by 2040.

Western Australia - Gilbert's potoroo

The Gilbert’s potoroo boasts the unenviable title of the world’s rarest marsupial. Thought to be extinct through the 1900’s, it was rediscovered in 1994 on the Mount Gardner headland. Once locally abundant around the south-west coast of WA, today, there are only 100-120 individuals remaining.

Of the four potoroo species in Australia, the Gilbert's Potoroo is the smallest. Weighing in at only one kilogram, this little mammal feeds predominantly on wild truffles, which make up 90% of its diet. With thick thick grey-brown fur, wide eyes, and an almost hairless tail - the Gilbert’s potoroo looks like a miniature wallaby.

Heralded as the “comeback king” the Gilbert’s potoroo is arguably one of the luckiest species in the world. After the small population at Mount Gardner was rediscovered insurance populations were taken. An intervention which proved incredibly lucky because in 2015 the population at Mount Gardner was decimated as a wildfire tore through their habitat, leaving only seven individuals remaining. Today they face a 25% chance of extinction in the next 20 years.

Tasmania - Maugean skate

Tasmania is blessed with some of the most iconic species in Australia, the Tassie Devil, the Red-bellied pademelon, and the Eastern quoll - just to name a few. One animal that may not come to mind when you think about Tassie's amazing nature is the Maugean skate, but this ancient fish is making a splash as people fight for its protection.

The Maugean skate has been described by some scientists as the “thyalcine of the sea”. It is found only in Macquarie Harbour off Western Tasmania and is the only skate that can survive in slightly salty estuarine waters.

Earlier this year, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee identified the Maugean Skate as being at imminent risk of extinction. The population halved between 2014-2021 due to dissolved oxygen levels dropping, a side effect of upstream salmon farming and waters warming due to climate change.

The Maugean skate is ancient, it was swimming in the waters when dinosaurs were still roaming the land and Tasmania was still part of the Gondwana supercontinent. It’s up to us to ensure that they are here for future generations to enjoy.

Queensland - Mary River turtle

Mary River Turtle

Mary River turtle

The Mary River in South East Queensland is home to one very cool, very unique turtle. Iconic for its algae mohawk and ability to breathe through its bum, this turtle is the only species in its genus - meaning that it represents an ancient family of turtle that has disappeared from the rest of Australia.

In the 1960’s and 70’s the Mary River turtle was a popular pet across the country, sold as a “penny turtle” by pet shops. The removal of hatchlings from the wild for the pet trade dramatically impacted the species. Mary River turtles take a long time to reach maturity - so the pet trade had a dramatic and long-lasting effect on the species leaving behind an aging population unable to produce the next generation.

The Mary River turtle is Australia’s fourth-most endangered freshwater turtle and was listed in the world’s top 25 most endangered turtle species in 2003. It was recently identified as a species of extinction concern in correspondence between the environment minister and the Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

Northern Territory - Central rock rat

As the name suggests, the Central rock rat is a small rodent that lives in the rocky outcrops of central Australia. It is one of five species of rock rat, distinguished from its cousins by its very heavily furred tail and long ears.

Since colonization, these nocturnal rodents have disappeared from over 95% of their pre-European distribution. They were suspected to be extinct for nearly 30 years but were rediscovered in 1996 at Tjoritja/ West MacDonell National Park.

At only 10-15cm long, and weighing in at a mere 50-120g, the Central Rock Rat is an easy target for feral cats which are believed to be a primary driver in the species decline. Today there are only 650 remaining individuals. It is predicted that these rodents have a 20% chance of extinction by 2041.

South Australia - Australian sea lion

Since European settlement, an estimated 73 species have become extinct in South Australia. Many more are recognised at risk of extinction, one of them being the Australian sea lion.

Australia’s only unique sea lion, this species lives off the waters of South and West Australia. It was recognised as formally endangered in 2021, following a 60% plummet in population over the past four decades. South Australia is a stronghold for the species, supporting 42% of the total known population in three large colonies East of Port Lincoln.

The biggest threat to the Australian sea lion is gillnets. They get caught in the invisible nets and drown while hunting for food. An estimated 350 Australian sea lions are caught as by catch off the waters of South Australia each breeding season. Considering the fact that there are only around 6500 individuals remaining, this loss is significant.

Take Action for Threatened Species

There’s many ways that you can join these species in battling against extinction:

  • Join the community for creatures - For one critical week in November, communities nationwide are unifying under one banner to host local events and show our politicians that communities love Australian creatures and we want strong action to save them from extinction.
  • Demand strong new nature laws - It’s time for laws that actually protect nature from being destroyed and an independent regulator to enforce them.
  • Demand an end to coal and gas - Make sure the government knows you want an end to public spending on fossil fuels and more action for climate solutions.


Peta Bulling

Nature Campaigner