Find out how platypuses are faring on Kangaroo Island following the bushfires

Find out how platypuses are faring on Kangaroo Island following the bushfires

A well-known platy­pus habi­tat was dev­as­tat­ed by bush­fire on Kan­ga­roo Island. Learn how the species is recovering.

There’s real­ly only one place in South Aus­tralia to see a platy­pus in the wild, and that’s on Kan­ga­roo Island (KI).

This unique species was one of many intro­duced to KI in the 1920s when the island was iden­ti­fied as a refuge for threat­ened wildlife.

Platy­pus­es are gen­er­al­ly found in and around the water­holes in the Rocky Riv­er region of Flinders Chase Nation­al Park, but the dev­as­tat­ing 2019 – 20 sum­mer bush­fires severe­ly impact­ed their habi­tat in this west-coast park.

Before the fires

Before the bush­fires, KI’s platy­pus pop­u­la­tion was under­stood to be thriv­ing, esti­mat­ed at about 150 platypuses.

Platy­pus are secre­tive, often going about their lives dis­crete­ly, requir­ing patience and a keen eye to spot them. The bulk of the pop­u­la­tion on KI live around water­holes in Rocky Riv­er and Break­neck River.

Many park vis­i­tors were lucky enough to see platy­pus­es while on the Platy­pus Water­holes Walk last year, which is a two-hour return walk from the Flinders Chase Vis­i­tor Centre.

With SA expe­ri­enc­ing its dri­est sum­mer and start to autumn in many years, it’s thought the increased num­ber of sight­ings last year may have been due to low water lev­els in the water­holes rather than any increase in the population.

What’s hap­pen­ing to help?

While the recent fires dev­as­tat­ed much of Flinders Chase, there’s thank­ful­ly been a num­ber of sight­ings of platy­pus in their usu­al spots with­in the park.

Wildlife recov­ery teams from the Depart­ment for Envi­ron­ment and Water are doing a lot of work to help this much-loved mam­mal sur­vive fol­low­ing the fires.

After the fires, platy­pus­es faced a sig­nif­i­cant risk from the effect of ash and sed­i­ment enter­ing their pools, remov­ing oxy­gen and ruin­ing the water qual­i­ty, and with it, their food supply.

Recov­ery teams have installed aer­a­tion pumps that cre­ate water move­ment, encour­ag­ing cir­cu­la­tion and pro­vid­ing bet­ter habi­tat for the insects and inver­te­brates that platy­pus dine out on.

Water qual­i­ty log­gers have been installed to mon­i­tor changes in sed­i­ment loads and oxy­gen availability.

Peri­od­ic sur­veys are also being under­tak­en to assess the con­tin­ued avail­abil­i­ty of the platy­pus­es’ known food sources, such as mayfly lar­vae, yab­bies and worms.

While the exact num­ber of platy­pus remain­ing on the island today is yet to be con­firmed, con­fi­dence can be drawn from the fact the pop­u­la­tion coped quite well after the 2007 blaze that hit KI.

Did you know?

  • Platy­pus­es don’t have teeth inside their bills. So when they scoop up worms, insects and shell­fish from the bot­tom of streams and water­holes, they also scoop up grav­el. They store this in pouch­es in their cheeks and munch away, using the bits of grav­el as teeth to break up the tougher food.
  • They also don’t have a stom­ach, but have a gul­let that con­nects direct­ly to their intestines.
  • Their bills give them a sort of sixth sense, allow­ing them to detect elec­tric fields gen­er­at­ed by the mus­cles of oth­er ani­mals. So when they for­age under­wa­ter, they keep their eyes, ears and nose closed, detect­ing food with their bills.
  • Platy­pus­es swim grace­ful­ly in the water, but move awk­ward­ly on land. When on land they retract the web­bing on their feet to expose nails which allows them to run. They also use their nails and feet to build dirt bur­rows near water.
  • You can also add repro­duc­tion to the list of the platypus’s spe­cial fea­tures, as they are one of only two mam­mals to lay eggs (the echid­na is the other).
  • The females seal them­selves inside their bur­rows to lay their eggs, gen­er­al­ly pro­duc­ing one or two, which they keep warm by hold­ing between their body and tail.
  • The leath­ery eggs hatch in about ten days and the babies are about the size of a 20 cent coin (that coin­ci­den­tal­ly bears their likeness!).
  • Babies nurse from their moth­er for three to four months, suck­ling from the two milk patch­es cov­ered by fur on the female’s abdomen.
  • Platy­pus­es can live for up to 20 years.

How can you help?

To help sup­port the recov­ery of species like platy­pus­es in parks, you can donate to the Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice South Aus­tralia and the Nature Foundation’s Wildlife Recov­ery Fund

To learn more about how species are recov­er­ing after the bush­fires on Kan­ga­roo Island, read our blog about theendan­gered KI dun­nartor theglossy black-cock­a­too. You might also be inter­est­ed in learn­ing about theimpor­tant role bush­fires play in bio­di­ver­si­ty.

(Main image cour­tesy of C Wilson)

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living