Second Oldest Park in the World Reintroduces Platypuses After a 50-Year Absence

Exciting news for nature lovers Down Under! Platypuses are back within the boundaries of Australia’s Royal National Park after disappearing from sight in the 1970s. So, what facilitated this fantastic turnaround in residency?

Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those “Oh, we thought they were extinct” moments where decades later, the animals are seen on a trail cam, or a citizen catches a glimpse of one and reports it.

Rather, wildlife officials released four female platypus inside the park located south of Sydney in the state of New South Wales. Their plans are to introduce two more females and four males in the near future.

platypus release
Photo: YouTube/@UNSW

The strange duck-billed creatures that actually fall under the category of mammals (even though they lay eggs) were last recorded within the park roughly 50 years ago. Why the disappearance? Experts hypothesize that a nearby chemical spill during the ’70s wiped out platypus populations within the park.

Now, after years of planning, those involved hope that the elusive creatures will regain a foothold in Royal Park’s waterways like the Hacking River, where the four fuzzy ladies were released. In order to give them a fighting chance, conservationists have been studying the park’s water quality while eliminating predators like cats and foxes.

Established in 1879, the second oldest national park on Earth should be capable of providing them with plenty to eat, too. It’s said researchers found a healthy population of caddis fly larvae, shrimp, dragonfly nymphs, and other macroinvertebrates for them to feast on.

platypus Taronga Zoo
Photo: YouTube/@UNSW

So, where did they get the animals? Biologists collected them from various populations in New South Wales with an eye toward ensuring genetic diversity. Before being taken to their new home, the gals made a detour and spent some time at the Taronga Zoo, where a new platypus rescue and rehabilitation center has been established.

Outfitted with transmitters to track their movements, conservationists translocated the females first to give them an opportunity to acclimate themselves before the fellas arrive, which will likely happen a week to 10 days later. The hope is that they will mate, multiply, and thrive.

Once commonly found throughout Tasmania and eastern Australia, platypuses have been slowly disappearing due to a number of threats that include pollution, bushfires, deforestation, and drought leading to a decline in population by as much as 31 to 65 percent in some areas. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists them as “near threatened.”

Photo: Pixabay/pen_ash

The platypus is one of the few living mammals to produce venom made in glands that are connected to hollow spurs on their hind legs. It’s said to be quite painful if you’re struck by one.

On a final note, researchers there are hopeful that platypuses can become the “new sentinels” of the country’s rivers. Richard Kingsford, an ecologist and the director of the Center for Ecosystem Science at the University of New South Wales, stated that “If your platypuses are doing well, the river is probably in pretty good shape.”

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