Western ringtail possum: Special and in trouble...

Dr Rochelle StevenBusselton Dunsborough Times
An orphaned western ringtail possum.
Camera IconAn orphaned western ringtail possum.

Why the western ringtail possum is special and in trouble...

In talking with members of the community about the western ringtail possum, many people respond with “how can they be critically endangered? They’re everywhere”.

I suppose if you live in Busselton or Bunbury, and don’t travel outside of the region much, that could feel true.

But, in fact, they are not “everywhere”.

They really are found only on the South West of Australia – that’s it.

Tigers have a larger range, yet people have no problem believing they are threatened.

In reality, the western ringtail possum is at greater risk of extinction than Bengal tigers.

The next fact check is this – threatened does not always equal rare, and vice versa.

Western ringtail possums are critically endangered, listed on both state and Commonwealth legislations as such, and yet, walk down the street in Busselton or Dunsborough at night time and you will likely find a ringie or two quite easily.

On the flip side, echidnas are not listed as threatened but I suspect most people in Australia could not walk out their back door and find one in their backyard.

You would have to hunt for quite some time, far away from the main street of Busselton. You get the point.

So, apart from having a small geographic range, why are ringies in trouble?

Well, the species is found from Mandurah to Albany, and through the southern forests around Manjimup.

That seems like a big area, but as we have already seen above, it isn’t really in the scheme of things.

Additionally, the population around Manjimup has undergone drastic declines in the last 20 years.

A combination of forestry, fires and introduced predators seem to be the culprits in the forest population.

Closer to home, in the Busselton and Dunsborough area, the species has lost huge amounts of habitat to urbanisation.

All of these things, we term “death by a thousand cuts” and result in the species current status.

Next time you are in your backyard, observing your resident ringie clamouring across the fence line or roof, imagine you were staring at one of the globally recognised species we seem to have no trouble believing to be threatened.

In fact, our ringies are just as special, unique and in trouble as orang-utan or tigers, so how lucky we are to be able to see them in our own city.

Dr Rochelle Steven

Threatened Species Recovery Hub- University of Queensland- Busselton Community Member

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