National Threatened Species Day occurs every year on September 7th. It is a day to commemorate almost 2000 Australian plant and animal species that are listed as 'threatened'. Australia is facing an extinction crisis - but there is hope for our threatened species.
National Threatened Species Day marks the day the last Tasmanian tiger (thylacine) died in captivity. Accidentally left outside his enclosure at Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo, the thylacine was exposed to a cold snap overnight and caught pneumonia in 1936. His species had been given ‘protected’ status less than two months earlier. The tragic story of the extinction of the thylacine in the early 20th century is not unlike what is happening to our current threatened species. A range of factors contributed to thylacine extinction – hunting, habitat loss due to land clearing, disease, and competition with other introduced species, such as dogs.
The most prominent factor, however, was the expansion of farming in the 1800s by European settlers in Tasmania. As farmers established sheep and cattle farms the reclusive thylacine was feared and hunted as a threat to livestock. By the 1930s only a few remained. The last known wild thylacine was killed in 1930, the last captive one died of neglect in 1936.
Today, many of our threatened species are under increasing pressure from habitat destruction for agriculture, mining, and urban sprawl, as well as climate change fueled bushfires and predation from invasive species such as cats and foxes. The recently released State of the Environment Report reveals that “habitat loss and degradation is the most dominant mechanism by which species are threatened in Australia, with nearly 70% of Australian threatened taxa impacted”.
And just as the thylacine has disappeared from our world, ongoing habitat destruction is having devastating impacts for the 556 species on the national threatened fauna list and 1402 species on the national threatened flora list.
From the black cockatoo to the pygmy possum to the iconic koala, the hundreds of animals that make their way to the national threatened species list may suffer the same fate as the fabled Tasmanian tiger without the strong action needed to protect them. Neglecting our responsibility to these precious animals is tantamount to leaving them in the cold to die.