Facts

Leadbeater's Possum. Photo - J.P. Ferrero.

Leadbeater’s Possum. Photo – J.P. Ferrero.

Leadbeater’s Possum is the Victorian State Mammal Emblem.

Listed Species

In the state of Victoria Leadbeater’s Possum is listed under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 as threatened.

In Australia Leadbeater’s Possum is listed under the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 as endangered.

The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Animals 1994 lists Leadbeater’s Possum as endangered.

Threats to Survival

Logging of the Mountain Ash forests in the Central Highlands for woodchips (paper production) has resulted in the loss of vast areas of Leadbeater’s Possum habitat.

The fragmentation of suitable habitat by timber harvesting causes isolated small populations of animals, who are then unable to reach other colonies for breeding.

Stochastic events, such as bushfires, disease, drought (climate change) and collapsing old habitat trees are also threatening processes for Leadbeater’s Possum.

Juvenile Leadbeater’s Possum. Photo: David Lindenmayer.

Juvenile Leadbeater’s Possum. Photo: David Lindenmayer.

History

  • 1867 First specimens were collected at Bass River in Victoria
  • 1909 Last sighting of LBP in the wild – declared extinct in 1950’s
  • 1961 Eric Wilkinson rediscovered LBP at Tommy’s Bend, near Cambarville in the Central Highlands
  • 1971 LBP’s were declared the Victorian State Animal Emblem
  • 1973 LBP’s were first bred in captivity by naturalist Des Hackett
  • 2006 Death of the last Leadbeater’s Possum in captivity in Australia
  • 2009 Bushfires destroy more than 45% of LBP habitat and population numbers in the wild are halved to an estimated 1000 individuals.
  • 2010 Kasia passed away peacefully in her sleep at just over 10 years of age at Metro Zoo, Toronto Canada. At the time she was the last captive Leadbeater’s Possum anywhere in the world.
  • 2011 DSE and Parks Victoria ‘rescue’ the last 3 Lake Mountain LBP’s from their habitat after a feral cat is filmed hunting near their nest box and a number of animals had ‘disappeared’. They are taken to Healesville Sanctuary to be housed on a temporary basis until they can be safely returned to their habitat. One animal later dies from unknown causes in its enclosure.
  • 2012 Healesville Sanctuary begins a new Captive Breeding Program for Leadbeater’s Possums and sources “founders”, new wild possums have been brought into captivity for the breeding program, from Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve (NCR). The breeding program is based around the genetically distinct Yellingbo NCR population of Leadbeater’s Possums. (2013 no breeding has occurred at this time)
  • July 2013 Two Lake Mountain LBP’s are put on display in the Nocturnal House at Healesville Sanctuary after DEPI refuses to issue a permit to return them to their wild habitat.
  • August 2013 Professor David Lindenmayer calls on the Victorian Government to expand the current LBP Reserve System to include all LBP remaining habitat in the Central Highlands (currently subject to clearfell logging) in a new Great Forest National Park.
Lake Mountain Leadbeater’s Possum habitat burnt in the 2009 bushfires. Photo: Pam Miskin.

Lake Mountain Leadbeater’s Possum habitat burnt in the 2009 bushfires. Photo: Pam Miskin.

 

Post Bushfire February 2009

Following the February 2009 bushfires in the Central Highlands, Leadbeater’s Possum is in serious decline. Over 45% of their known territory was destroyed by the intense fires and estimates put the numbers of animals at less than 1,000 animals remaining.

There are approximately 50 Leadbeater’s Possums living in the Yellingbo State Nature Conservation Reserve together with the other Victorian Faunal Emblem, the Helmeted Honeyeater.

Leadbeater’s Possum in captivity / zoos

From the original captive Leadbeater’s Possum breeding program the last captive possum in Australia died in the Healesville Sanctuary in 2006.

Kasia in Toronto Zoo. Photo: Brent Huffman.

Kasia in Toronto Zoo. Photo: Brent Huffman.

“Kasia” was a 10yr old female Leadbeater’s Possum living at Toronto Zoo until she died in 2010. From these original captive bred possums she was the last Leadbeater’s Possum in captivity anywhere in the world. Her parents were born at Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria and were sent to Canada to enhance the captive breeding program. Although the captive breeding program did not continue as there was no structured release program for any of the captive bred animals.

In her last years Kasia was not on display at the zoo but was held in an enclosure on her own and off display.

In 2012 a new captive breeding program has begun at Healesville Sanctuary. The program has begun by sourcing (bringing into captivity) founder animals from the wild population at Yellingbo NCR. The Yellingbo animals are considered to be genetically distinct from the Central Highlands population. As of 2013 the captive animals have not bred, consequently there is no plan in place for release of any captive bred animals back to Yellingbo NCR, although other areas in the region are being investigated as possible future release sites.  There is no captive breeding program planned for the Leadbeater’s Possums found in the Central Highlands forests – habitat protection from clearfell logging is their best hope for a future.

Taxonomy

Common name: Leadbeater’s Possum
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Diprotodontia
Family: Petauridae
Genus: Gymnobelideus
Species: leadbeateri

Gymnobelideus: from Greek language : gymno – naked; belideus – dart, arrow.

leadbeateri: in honour of John Leadbeater (1831-88), a taxidermist, who preserved the first LBP specimens at the Museum of Victoria.

Kasia. Photo: Brent Huffman.

Kasia. Photo: Brent Huffman.

Leadbeater’s Possum features, appearance and diet

Leadbeater’s Possum is a nocturnal, small arboreal (tree dwelling), omnivorous (eats animals and plants) marsupial (mammal which gives birth to tiny underdeveloped joeys, which usually grow in the mother’s pouch).

Body length: 150 – 170 mm
Tail length: 145 – 165 mm
Weight: 100 – 165 g

Colour: Grey to greyish-brown above and paler below. Has a dark mid-dorsal (along centre of back) stripe.
Appearance: Similar to a Sugar Glider, but without a patagium (gliding membrane) and has a long club-shaped tail.
Diet: Exudates (saps and gums) from wattle and eucalypt manna (sweet secretion of leaves & branches); honeydew (droplets of sugary liquid produced when insects pierce leaves) secretions; and a variety of arthropods (an invertebrate with jointed legs) crickets, beetles, flies, moths, ants and spiders.

Leadbeater's Possum a nocturnal animal climbing down tree at night.

Leadbeater’s Possum a nocturnal animal climbing down tree at night.

 Life history

Leadbeater's Possum use shredded bark for their nests. Photo: Shire of Yarra Ranges.

Leadbeater’s Possum use shredded bark for their nests. Photo: Shire of Yarra Ranges.

  • Leadbeater’s possums live in colonies – up to 12 animals
  • Only one pair per colony will breed
  • Matriarchal society (female dominated)
  • Territory is 1.5 – 3 hectares and is well defended
  • Breeding can occur twice a year (spring/summer & autumn/winter)
    Up to 2 joeys in a litter
  • Females can breed again in one season if the first litter dies
  • Life span in the wild is only about 5 years, but up to 13.5 in captivity

Important forest habitat features for Leadbeater’s Possums

  • Number of hollow trees available for nesting
  • Amount and type of wattle trees in the surrounding understorey
  • Amount of trees with bark strips
  • Number of shrubs in the surrounding understorey
  • Slope of the site
  • Amount and type of wattle trees in the surrounding understorey

Structure of Leadbeater’s habitat in Mountain Ash forests

Some of the major plants of the regrowth Central Highlands forests inhabited by Leadbeater’s Possum:

Overstorey plantsShorter trees, shrubs and tree ferns
Mountain AshMusk Daisy Bush
Alpine AshHazel Pomaderris
Shining GumMountain Correa
Silver WattleDogwood
Mountain Hickory WattleStinkwood
Forest Wattle Victorian Christmas Bush
BlackwoodAustral Mulberry
Myrtle BeechRough Tree Fern
SassafrasSoft Tree Fern

Important habitat feature: old stags.

Stags are the very large old dead or dying trees usually over 200 years old in Mountain Ash forests. Leadbeater’s Possums like to nest in the hollows of these trees.

Old stag tree amongst Silver Wattle & Mountain Ash at Cambarville. Photo: Pam Miskin.

Old stag tree amongst Silver Wattle & Mountain Ash at Cambarville. Photo: Pam Miskin.