The Mountain Pygmy-possum was thought be extinct until it was discovered in 1966. These are the largest of Australia’s five pygmy possum species, but the Mountain Pygmy-possum is still small enough (35 - 80g) to fit into the palm of your hand. As their name suggests, these possums inhabit alpine areas across New South Wales and Victoria. In Victoria they are found within the Alpine National Park, Mt Hotham, Mt Buller and Falls Creek Resorts.
Each year they go through a prolonged hibernation over winter of up to 7 months, emerging in early spring to mate. They spend most of their time inhabiting alpine and subalpine boulderfields and rocky screes. Unlike other possum species, they are usually found close to the ground, where they hunt for their main food sources, Bogong Moths and other invertebrates. They will also eat seeds, dupes and berries.
Males and females do not spend their time together. Females will raise up to four young, who will leave the nest one month after they have weened.
There are around 2000 Mountain Pygmy-possum in the wild. Their habitat requirements restrict their distribution, meaning numbers cannot significantly increase. Consequently, genetic loss is a key threat to the small populations.
A large extent of Mountain Pygmy Possum habitat occurs within or very close to major ski resorts, so protection of habitat is key.
As possums emerge from hibernation, a critical food source is the Bogong Moth. The arrival of these moths has declined in recent years, which is thought to be a response to a change in climatic conditions in the southern grasslands of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria where they begin their migration.
What's being done?
Since its rediscovery there have been a number of measures taken to help this species. In regard to habitat, these include:
- Weed control, revegetation
- Protection of habitat through fencing and restricted use
- Creation of boulderfield to emulate habitat at Mt Buller
- Predator control
To combat the loss of genetic diversity as a result of small population size, a successful genetic rescue was undertaken at Mt Buller on the mid 2000's, through the translocation of males from Mt Hotham.
DELWP has worked with partners to build a corridor to provide a safe passage under the Great Alpine Road at Mt Little Higginbotham, known as the "Tunnel of Love". Other tunnels and corridors have been constructed at Mt Hotham/Falls Creek.
Zoos Victoria holds a research and breeding population at Healesville Sanctuary.
Efforts to save the species are being supported by a $200,000 grant through the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity On-Ground Action Icon Species Grants program.
The recent observation of low Bogong Moth numbers is having a negative impact on the breeding success of Mountain Pygmy-possums. DELWP is coordinating a project in partnership with land managers, government agencies, Traditional Owners and community to better understand the problem and to implement urgent action.
Page last updated: 03/10/19