Endangered Australian animals sliding towards extinction
If effective recovery plans and protections are not put in place, some of Australia’s most iconic animals could become extinct, just like the Bramble Cay melomys did in 2019. Extinction is a choice!
The Bramble Cay melomys, a small rat that lived on a tiny island off the top of Queensland, was listed as extinct on 18 February 2019. A government plan to save the animal wasn’t enacted and infamously, the rat became the first mammal in the world to become extinct as a result of climate change.
Since the Bramble Cay melomys went extinct, 140 plants and animals have moved onto or up the government’s threatened species list. All over the continent animals are at risk of extinction without recovery plans in place and strong nature laws to protect their habitat. And as the Bramble Cay melomys goes to show, even if there is a plan to save a species, there is the risk that it simply is not acted upon. (Main image above: swift parrot photographed in lutruwita / Tasmania by Billy Rowe.)
Below you’ll find some of Australia’s most iconic species that have had their threatened status upgraded in recent times. Without strong new nature laws and effective recovery plans, some of the continent's most amazing animals will be lost.
Extinction is a choice!
Animals on the path to extinction
1. Freshwater (largetooth) sawfish (Pristis pristis)
Vulnerable (recommended to be listed as endangered with a decision due in October 2023); the Kimberley and Martuwarra / Fitzroy River, across to the coast of the Northern Territory and the Gulf of Carpentaria.
The fact that Martuwarra has been flowing free for so long is evidenced by some of the ancient animals it sustains, like the northern river shark (Glyphis garricki), and freshwater (largetooth) sawfish (Pristis pristis), an extraordinary fish listed as critically endangered internationally. The waters of the Kimberley and the mighty Martuwarra represent essential remaining habitat for this animal.
The sawfish can grow up to seven metres in length, bigger than a great white. Once found in rivers around the world, in the Congo, Vietnam and the Seychelles, the fish has been pushed to the brink from overfishing and habitat destruction. It’s testament to the health of Martuwarra that it’s one of the last strongholds for this magnificent animal.If you see one, dead or alive, take a photo and send it to Sharks and Rays Australia which is monitoring the health of this globally important population.
2. Swift parrot (Lathamus discolor)
Declared Critically Endangered in 2016; Range: forests of lutruwita / Tasmania migrating to central Victoria and eastern New South Wales in winter
In 2016, the swift parrot was uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered. One of two migratory parrots in Australia, the other being the orange-bellied parrot, the beautiful emerald green and red-faced bird breeds in the forests of lutruwita / Tasmania before migrating to the mainland in winter. Shockingly, little has been done to address the core reason for its decline: habitat destruction. Swift parrot habitat is still being logged, with local communities and organisations like the Wilderness Society having to seek protection for forests that represent critical habitat for the parrot. Swifts travel vast distances across the Bass Strait to mainland Australia each year. When they return to breed they could find that their nesting sites have been logged.
Unfortunately, habitat loss isn’t the only reason for the parrot’s population decline—sugar gliders are also a threat. Sugar gliders and swift parrots share similar habitat, so they occupy the same space. While research is ongoing, it’s been found that with less forest cover—primarily due to logging and bushfires—swift parrot predation increased by as much as 100%. The gliders have been found eating swift parrots’ hatchlings, and at times, even kill the female parrot in the hollow.
Read how activist Billy Rowe identifies critical habitat for swift parrots in issue #022 of Wilderness Journal.
3. Gang gang cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum)
Southeastern forests of Australian mainland NSW and Victoria; newly listed as Endangered on 2 March 2022
There was a sense of national dismay when it was announced in 2022 that an Australian icon, the gang gang, was declared Endangered. The gang gang cockatoo, the male with its perfectly contrasting pastel grey and burnt orange head, the female with its small grey crest, are usually spotted in pairs. However, following the 2019-20 bushfires, which destroyed almost two-thirds of NSW native forest alone, the gang gang cockatoo is now a rarer sight.
To give the gang gang a chance at recovery, and move back up the list away from extinction, its forest habitat must be protected across its range in the east from NSW and south into East Gippsland, Victoria. Burnt forest must be left to recover from the fires, while we also know that industrial logging makes forests more vulnerable to bushfires and more likely to burn out of control. When trees mature after a few decades, they are significantly less likely to burn.Find out about what must be done to save the gang gang cockatoo’s habitat in NSW’s forests
4. Baudin’s black cockatoo (Zanda baudinii)
The Northern Jarrah Forests of South West WA; listed as Endangered in 2018, from Vulnerable.
The Baudin’s black cockatoo is one of three species of black cockatoo that reside in the remarkable habitat offered by the magnificent jarrah and karri forests of WA’s South West. The birds need well-established tree hollows to nest; some of the hollow-bearing giants in the Northern Jarrah are more than 200 years old predating European settlement. These forests are also globally significant, a biodiversity hotspot, with 80% of the species found here endemic to the South West! The Northern Jarrah is host to more than 8,000 species of wildflowers, 300 species of delicate orchids, and 60 different banksias.
However the Baudin’s, Carnaby’s and red-forest tail black cockatoos are under a lot of pressure and sliding towards extinction. Habitat loss is driving these birds into urban areas and severely reducing their range. While the government has declared an end to native forest logging in the state by 2024, mining for bauxite, which is used to make aluminium, is clearing vast sections of forest. The black cockatoos urgently need effective emergency recovery plans and an end to the destruction of their remaining habitat.Watch the trailer for Black Cockatoo Crisis and read an interview with the director in issue #021 of Wilderness Journal
5. Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea)
Uplisted from Vulnerable to Endangered in 2020; Range: the Great Australian BIght, SA and south coast WA.
The Australian sea lion is endemic to the marine wilderness of the Great Australian Bight, with some colonies found further west on the coast of WA. Being evolutionarily distinct, and one of the most endangered seal species in the world, the populations of the Great Australian Bight are globally significant. The seals were nearly hunted to extinction for their fur when European colonists arrived, but have since recovered. However, research has shown that over the last four decades its numbers have declined by 60%, meaning it got bumped up the list from Vulnerable to Endangered in 2020.
One of the main causes for its decline have been the use of gillnets in the waters of the Bight with seals getting tangled up and killed in the near-invisible nets. Tighter restrictions around their use have been very effective, but Australian Sea Lion numbers haven’t stabilised yet. To give them a chance to fully recover their habitat needs to be protected from fossil fuel exploration that could lead to disastrous oil spills. The Wilderness Society has been at the forefront of efforts to keep oil out of the Bight, something that could lead to an extinction event for this remarkable animal. The Great Australian Bight needs to be protected for good.Find out more about the amazing biodiversity of the Great Australian Bight and efforts to protect it.
6. Greater Glider (Petauroides volans)Listed as Endangered in July 2022, upgraded from Vulnerable. Range: Eastern Australia, important populations in Victoria’s tall forests particularly under pressure.
Since they were first listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in 2016, greater gliders have continued to suffer the destruction of their habitat by logging, land clearing and bushfires linked to climate change. Despite this, there is no recovery plan in place and no Minister has ever released an Action Statement for the species—as is required by law. And now, because of these ongoing threats and government inaction, the greater glider populations of East Gippsland have been reclassified as ‘Endangered’.
Without old growth trees bearing hollows big enough for Australia’s largest gliding possum to shelter and nest in, these fluffy creatures face an uncertain future. But the solution is simple: to give greater gliders a fighting chance at survival, logging of their native forest homes must stop.