Koalas have been pushed to the edge of extinction and researchers are warning another iconic Australian animal could be next.
Platypus were once thought to be too odd-looking to exist but a number of factors may soon push that description perilously close to reality, according to the study undertaken by UNSW researchers.
The impacts of land clearing, climate change, drought and water distribution are driving the monotreme’s population into drastic decline.
“We might wake up one day and realise, like the koalas, all of a sudden the platypus is critically endangered,” lead researcher Dr Gilad Bino told AAP on Monday.
The platypus was once considered widespread across eastern Australia and Tasmania but its “cryptic” nocturnal nature means knowledge of its population and spread has been limited until now.
The study found that under current climate change and threat projections, the platypus population could decline by up to 73 per cent over the next 50 years, and their spread shrink by as much as 56 per cent.
Even if threats to the species were limited to current levels, the number of platypus would decline by between 47 per cent to 66 per cent and their population spread shrink by 22 per cent.
The study anticipates platypus will become “locally extinct” in up to 40 per cent of the areas it currently lives.
The struggling Murray-Darling River system has already claimed some South Australian platypus populations.
“Particularly in South Australia, we know the platypus used to extend along the Murray River but are now in some areas practically extinct,” Dr Bino said.
“The lack of conscious sustainable management of rivers, habitat destruction, sedimentation … you’ve got all these synergistic impacts that are running in conjunction and compounding the impact.”
But Dr Bino said he was optimistic better conservation, increased monitoring and more captive breeding and research programs could save the species.
The team would also like to see the platypus conservation status reassessed. South Australia is the only state to currently list the animal as endangered.