The unique duck-like billed, egg-laying monotreme is being reintroduced into the park after an absence of 50 years.
The reintroduction of platypuses back into the Royal National Park has been made possible by a collective conservation effort led by UNSW Sydney with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Taronga Conservation Society Australia and WWF-Australia.
In a staged release, six females have already waddled their way onto the banks of the Hacking River, with a group of males released a week later.
Back in 2019, concerned citizens raised the alarm as they witnessed severe drying events impacting local river systems. Experts, aware of the impact to endangered platypus populations already grappling with habitat destruction, fox predation, deadly illegal yabby traps and fragmentation, looked for solutions to support the species. In response to these concerns Taronga Zoo have begun construction of specialist platypus rehabilitation and care facilities that will have the capability to manage the care of up to 65 platypuses when completed later this year.
A carefully researched reintroduction program led by UNSW Sydney was also put into motion to bring platypuses back to the Royal National Park. Running over the past two years, the program aims to develop a conservation framework to protect the platypus from further declines by facilitating natural movement, dispersal, and colonisation by the animals.
Healthy animals were identified for relocation supported by extensive testing and measures to help them thrive. Dr Tahneal Hawke’s population size and demographic research was crucial in helping identify and collect healthy individuals from abundant wild source populations across four different rivers and seven sites. Individuals were selected to ensure they had the genetically diverse DNA necessary to sustain a new population.
Implanted acoustic tags will enable close monitoring of the platypuses as they settle into their new home for the first-time. The special marine tags will send back real time data each time a platypus passes by one of the receivers, mapping their activity.
“We’re all hoping to see emergence of juveniles in a successful breeding season,” said lead researcher for the relocation program Dr Gilad Bino, UNSW Sydney.
The team also undertook water quality surveys, fox management, soil testing, depth mapping of the river and reviews of macroinvertebrates consumed by platypuses to ensure the habitat could sustain their new residents.
“The welfare of the platypuses was always our highest priority – both at the source sites and the release site at Royal National Park,” said Dr Hawke.
The project hasn’t been without its challenges, with water testing required to allay concerns over run-off from a nearby mine that saw black sediment enter the waterway. Despite this, the team are positive and optimistic that the system can support platypuses.
Thanks to the dedicated work of researchers, the relocation program has laid the foundation for safeguarding the future of platypus populations in NSW. Each successful release is a remarkable testament to the unwavering conservation effort by a team of passionate individuals committed to giving this endangered species their best chance.
How can you help
Be a citizen scientist and help collect sighting data for platypuses.
Get involved in regenerating habitat near and around rivers to help build resilience against erosion. Join a National Tree Day event in your area.
Limit cattle access close to riverbanks to maintain river health.
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