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Australia sets up first centre to rescue and rehabilitate platypus

Concerned by the habitat threats caused by climate change, the facility will have a capacity to house about 65 platypuses

The world's first dedicated platypus refuge will be established to rescue the unique Australian animals from climate change-fuelled crises, as bushfires and drought increasingly threaten their habitat. (RICK STEVENS / TARONGA ZOO / AFP)

Concerned by the growing environmental crises caused by climate change, Australia has decided to create a first of its kind refuge dedicated to rescued platypus. The unique amphibious found Down Under, have been facing habitat extinction due to increasing incidences of bushfires and droughts.

The refuge facility will be built in Dubbo, five hours northwest of Sydney, by the Taronga Zoo. It will provide emergency care to the river-dwelling, duck-billed mammals when disasters strike. The refuge will also be used as an aquatic rehabilitation facility, and is due to be completed by 2022.

With capacity to house up to 65 platypuses, it will also be used as a research facility to study the reproductive biology of the egg-laying animals, which are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity.

Phoebe Meagher, a wildlife conservation officer at Taronga, said the project was prompted by a prolonged drought and Australia's 2019-2020 "Black Summer" of bushfires that devastated platypus habitats. "We were just inundated with phone calls and emails asking us to come and help rescue platypus," she said, adding, "The drought and bushfires hit New South Wales really hard and there was just nowhere for these platypus to go."

Scientists have estimated three billion animals died in the bushfires. However, even before that, platypuses were under threat. A January, 2020, survey estimated the total platypus population has plummeted by 50% since European settlement of Australia two centuries ago. An earlier study published in 2018, estimated the population to around 200,000.

Taronga was able to save and later release seven of the monotremes back into the wild, but Meagher hopes the purpose-built refuge will allow larger-scale rescues in the future to help protect the species from extinction. "We will hold them for as long as conditions mean that we have to... we can hold for years if we have to (but) that's not what we want to have to do," she said.

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