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'Local extinction': Platypus likely wiped out of NSW wilderness

Platypus have likely been eradicated from a major NSW national park, a new DNA survey has found.

Just 33km south of Sydney, traces of 250 species were detected in the Royal National Park's rivers by researchers from University of NSW.

While platypus once thrived in the wilderness, there hasn’t been a confirmed sighting in decades, and the study almost certainly confirms the worst.

Left - a road running through the park with the city in the background. Right - an aerial view of the park.
Platypus once thrived in the Royal National Park, which is just 33km from Sydney. Source: Getty / Google Earth

The event which triggered the local extinction has never been confirmed, although one possibility is a chemical spill that occurred in the 1970s.

As the species is notoriously hard to spot, project leader Dr Gilad Bino had held out hope that small numbers may have survived, and the survey result has left him “somewhat disappointed”.

“Platypuses are such a cryptic, shy creature that spends almost all of its time in the water and mostly at night,” he said.

“This makes it a very difficult animal to study.”

Bold new plan provides hope for platypus

While platypus may have been wiped from the Royal National Park, Dr Bino and his team are confident they could be reintroduced.

Having found the park's water to be sustaining a “healthy diversity” of species, they plan to release 10 individuals into the park's rivers this year.

Captive breeding programs could help the platypus survive. Source: Getty
Captive breeding programs could help the platypus survive. Source: Getty

In the years since platypus once thrived in the park, the landscape has changed, and this could impact their ability to survive.

Severe climate induced events including drought, fire, and flooding could also pose a threat, as could foxes which are known to inhabit the park.

Dr Bino is also somewhat concerned about the impact of a housing development in Helensburgh at the southern end of the park which resulted in large amounts of sediment being washing into streams.

More on extinction:

In order for platypus to survive in the wild, he said freshwater rivers across Australia must be better protected and restored.

Translocations, captive breeding programs and the rescue of animals impacted by extreme weather will all be required to support populations.

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