Leadbeaterâ€™s Possum is the Victorian State Mammal Emblem.
In the state of Victoria Leadbeaterâ€™s Possum is listed under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 as threatened.
In Australia Leadbeaterâ€™s Possum is listed under theÂ 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 Leadbeaterâ€™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 Leadbeaterâ€™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 Leadbeaterâ€™s Possum.
- 1867 First specimens were collected at Bass River in Victoria
- 1909 Last sighting of LBP in the wild â€“ declared extinct in 1950â€™s
- 1961 Eric Wilkinson rediscovered LBP at Tommyâ€™s Bend, near Cambarville in the Central Highlands
- 1971 LBP’s were declared the Victorian State Animal Emblem
- 1973 LBPâ€™s were first bred in captivity by naturalist Des Hackett
- 2006 Death of the last Leadbeaterâ€™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 Leadbeaterâ€™s Possum anywhere in the world.
- 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.
Post Bushfire February 2009
Following the February 2009 bushfires in the Central Highlands, Leadbeaterâ€™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 Leadbeaterâ€™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 diedÂ in the Healesville Sanctuary in 2006.
â€śKasiaâ€ť was a 10yr old female Leadbeaterâ€™s Possum living at Toronto Zoo until she died in 2010. From these original captive bred possums she was the last Leadbeaterâ€™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. Â 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.
Common name: Leadbeaterâ€™s Possum
Gymnobelideus: from Greek language : gymno â€“ naked; belideus â€“ dart, arrow.
leadbeateri: in honour of John Leadbeater (1831-88), a taxidermist, who preserved the first LBP specimens at the Museum of Victoria.
Leadbeater’s Possum features, appearanceÂ and diet
Leadbeaterâ€™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 motherâ€™s pouch).
Body length:Â 150 – 170 mm
Tail length:Â 145 – 165 mm
Weight: 100 – 165 g
Colour:Â Grey to greyish-brown above and paler below. Has a dark mid-dorsal (along centre of back) stripe.
Appearance:Â 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.
Â Life history
- Leadbeaterâ€™s possums live in colonies â€“ up to 12 animals
- Only one pair per colony will breed
- Matriarchal society (female dominated)
- Territory is 1.5 â€“ 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 Leadbeaterâ€™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 Leadbeaterâ€™s habitat in Mountain Ash forests
Some of the major plants of the regrowth Central Highlands forests inhabited by Leadbeaterâ€™s Possum:
Overstorey plants Shorter trees, shrubs and tree ferns
Mountain Ash Musk Daisy Bush
Alpine Ash Hazel Pomaderris
Shining Gum Mountain Correa
Silver Wattle Dogwood
Mountain Hickory Wattle Stinkwood
Forest Wattle Victorian Christmas Bush
Blackwood Austral Mulberry
Myrtle Beech Rough Tree Fern
Sassafras Soft Tree Fern
Important habitat feature:Â 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 hollowsÂ of these trees.