The devastating Australian bushfires of 2019-2020 harmed up to 3 billion animals, burning almost half the country in the process. Many species, including the pygmy possum, were feared extinct. Now, for the first time since the fires, one possum has been found, raising hopes that the species may yet survive.
I'm not crying, you're crying
The pygmy possum, one of the smallest possums in the world, was feared extinct, but recently, the conservation group Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife found the little pygmy during their recent conservation efforts on Kangaroo Island.
Measuring just 10 cm (4 in) and weighing about 7 grams (around 0.01 lbs), this adorable critter is a survivor. It's “the first documented record of the species surviving post-fire,” fauna ecologist Pat Hodgens told the Guardian. The fire burned down 88% of their predicted habitat range, so they're extremely vulnerable, but at the very least, there is hope.
When you look like this, you must be protected at all costs.
There have only been 113 formal records of the species on the island, ecologist Pat Hodgens told My Modern Met, and studying these cute munchkins is difficult due to their size. However, Hodgens told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the ecologists are trying “to do everything we can to protect them to ensure that they hang around during this pretty critical time.”
The pygmy possums are not out of the woods by any chance. They're still possibly compromised as a species, not just because their habitat was destroyed, but because this also opens the way for invasive predators to enter the scene -- something which is not lacking in Australia.
Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife surveyed 20 different sites on the island, finding a handful of other species, including brush-tailed possums, tammar wallabies, a Bribons toadlet, and southern brown bandicoots.
It's not clear what state the environment is in, and pygmy possums are just one of the species that have been devastated by the bushfires. Researchers are hard at work assessing the scale of the damage and what conservation measures would be most effective.
Even if the species does recover, it will likely take decades before things return to the way they were. Even then, there's no guarantee that an upcoming bushfire season won't undo all the progress, causing even more damage.
Researchers expect the bushfire season to get even worse as a result of climate change. While climate change itself does not cause fires, it creates suitable conditions for them by drying the leaves and the soil.