World’s first refuge for endangered platypus, whose purpose is to save these unique Australian animals from the effects of climate change that has changed their natural habitat, will open northwest of Sydney.
The management of Taronga Zoo has announced that it will build a facility in Dubba, a place northwest of Sydney that will provide emergency assistance to these endangered mammals.
Platypus are mostly solitary. They are active at night and do not socialize with each other except during the mating season. They live by the water where they dig dens on the shores. They are distributed only along the east coast of Australia and in Tasmania.
The areas they inhabit have their own well-defined areas that can sometimes overlap. In its area, one animal has several lairs, some of which are only transient, and some are used for nesting.
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Entrances to the dens can be both underwater and above water. In case the inlets are underwater, the amount of oxygen in the dens can be significantly reduced. It is not known what adaptations platypus have developed to adopt such conditions.
The sanctuary will be able to house up to 65 platypus, and it will also be used as a research facility to study the reproductive biology of these egg-laying animals, which are extremely difficult to raise in captivity.
Phoebe Meagher, in charge of wildlife protection in Taronga, said that she and her colleagues came up with the idea of starting the project after a long drought and the “black Australian summer” 2019/2020, during which the habitats of platypus were destroyed.
“At one time, we were overwhelmed by phone calls and e-mails asking people to come to them and help save these endangered animals,” she told AFP. “Drought and huge fires have hit New South Wales hard and the platypus just had nowhere to run.”
Australian scientists have estimated that as many as three billion animals were killed in huge fires at the time, and even before them, the habitats of platypus were endangered.
The results of a January 2020 survey showed that the total population of these animals has declined by 50 percent since the period of European settlement of Australia two centuries ago.
Planned completion of works by 2022
According to the second, previously conducted study, published in November 2018, the number of platypus fell by 30 percent in that period, to about 200,000.
Meagher said that the Taronga Zoo has so far managed to save and later release seven platypus into the wild and hopes that a special refuge in the future will enable the rescue of more members of this animal species to protect it from extinction.
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“We will keep them in the shelter as long as circumstances show that it is necessary. We can keep them here for years, if unavoidable, but that is not what we would really want,” she said.
The shelter, which will also be used as a water rehabilitation facility, should be completed by 2022.