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Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum

20 years in 2024

Gymnobelideus leadbeateri

What we do

We advocate, educate and activate for Leadbeater’s Possum, Victoria’s Critically Endangered Faunal Emblem

Leadbeater’s Possum was declared almost certainly extinct in 1960, as no live specimen had been seen for 51 years, since 1909.

The last non-living, taxidermied Leadbeater’s Possum was also collected in 1909.

Then, in 1961, the possum was sighted by naturalist and geology student Eric Wilkinson near Marysville, at Cambarville, 90 to 120 minutes north-east of Melbourne – far from its original known habitat in the swamp forests of Western Gippsland around the Bass River region towards Western Port Bay and Phillip Island.

Since it’s rediscovery, a great deal of interest, research and awareness has been raised among Victoria’s zoos, biologists, community groups and citizens.

In 1971 Leadbeater’s Possum was declared the official faunal emblem of Victoria.

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More information about Leadbeater's Possum

Find out more of the remarkable story about Leadbeater’s Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri).

 

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About Leadbeater’s Possum

leadbeaters possum juvenile healesville sanctuary zoos vic

How many Leadbeater's Possums are there?

Answer

Research suggests there are around 1,500 Leadbeater’s Possums remaining on earth.

Where does Leadbeater's Possum live?

Answer

The majority of Leadbeater’s Possums live in the Yarra Ranges and Central Highlands of Victoria, an area approximately 80km x 50km – these are highland possums. There is a population of genetically distinct Leadbeater’s Possum at Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve numbering around 35 – these are lowland possums.

What actions are in place to protect Leadbeater's Possum?

Answer

There are a number of activities going on as at early 2024 to protect Leadbeater’s Possum, including:
a) encouraging the announcement of a Federal Recovery Plan;
b) seeking the re-establishment of a Recovery Team;
c) establishing a Great Forest National Park;
d) pushing to make the end of native forest logging – announced in May 2023 – a long term reality.

Not seen for 50 years

Leadbeater’s Possum was declared almost certainly extinct in 1960 as no live specimen had been seen for over 50 years, since 1909. Then, in 1961, the possum was sighted by naturalist Eric Wilkinson near Marysville, 90 minutes east of Melbourne –  far from its original known habitat in the swamp forests of Western Gippsland. Previously, the last Leadbeater’s Possum was collected in 1909. Since it’s rediscovery, a great deal of interest, research and awareness has been raised among Victoria’s zoos, biologists, community groups and citizens.

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Image: Eric Wilkinson discussing the rediscovery of Leadbeaters Possum at the Elephant Tree, Cambarville (c/- Adam Fletcher)

Distribution and habit

Leadbeater’s Possum is a tiny, nocturnal creature with large eyes and a long tail measuring around 30 cms in tota length. It requires old growth eucalypt trees with established large hollows in a which it can build its nest. Each colony requires several suitable nest trees. As a result it is now located in small pockets of regrowth Mountain Ash forest with access to large, old hollow-bearing trees in Victoria’s Central Highlands from Toolangi, to Matlock and down to the Baw Baws. Leadbeater’s Possum numbers are estimated to have peaked in the mid-1980s. From then, it’s numbers have declined. Bushfires and logging have impacted on its habitat and range.

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Image: Distribution, Historic and Current (c/- Parks Victoria)

State faunal emblem

With the unique story behind Leadbeater’s Possum “returning from extinction” and being incredibly rare, in 1971 it was made the official faunal emblem of Victoria. This was printed in the Victoria Government Gazette on March 10, 1971 that on Tuesday March 2, 1971 Gymnobelideus leadbeateri McCoy was adopted as the official mammalian emblem, alongside the similarly rare Helmeted Honeyeater, Meliphaga cassidix (Gould).

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Image: Proclamation announcement, Victoria Government Gazette, March 1971 (c/- Victorian Govt archives)

Black Saturday bushfires

Devastatingly, the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 burned around 45% of Leadbeater’s Possum’s reserved habitat. There are now estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000 Leadbeater’s Possums.

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Image: Leadbeater’s Possum records across the Yarra Ranges and Central Highlands, and the extent of the Black Saturday Bushfires in February 2009 (c/- Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum and Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater)

Renewed interest

Since 2009 there has been renewed scientific and community interest. On the 22nd April 2015, Greg Hunt, the then Federal Minister for the Environment announced that the Leadbeater’s Possum would be listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

A captive breeding program at Healesville Sanctuary commenced in May 2012. The program originally comprised 16 individuals from the genetically distinct population at Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve . They were housed as pairs in large enclosures off display. In October 2023 there was cause for celebration, as a female possum gave birth to twins at the sanctuary.

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Image: On the 22nd April 2015, the Federal Minister for the Environment announced that the Leadbeater’s Possum would be listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ and a Recovery Plan would be released. As at January 2024 no recovery plan has been officially published.

Into the future

Various community and environmental groups, including The Wilderness Society, My Environment and Great Forest National Park continue to champion for Victoria’s unique possum and liaise with both government and industry to create a safe haven.

We hope that some time soon an expanded reserve, the Great Forest National Park, will be established that will provide Leadbeater’s possum with a more viable future.

We celebrate Leadbeater’s Possum and trust you will too.

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Image: Rusty Coupe was logged in 2014. Steve Meacher, President of FLBP meets with Bob Brown and is consulted by the late Professor David Blair and Bernie Mace (c/- Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum and Adam Fletcher)

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Leadbeater’s Possum, Gymnobelideus leadbeateri

The generic name Gymnobelideus is Latin for naked dart, referring to the lack of a flying membrane that some other marsupial gliders have, and the species name leadbeateri was named after John Leadbeater, who was the taxidermist at the National Museum of Victoria in the late 1800s.

Leadbeater’s Possums are endemic to Victoria, Australia meaning they exist nowhere else. The range extends across an area of 80km x 50km around 60 kilometres east/north-east of Melbourne

The Naked Dart