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Distribution and Habitat

Leadbeater’s Possum records show its extent may once have been quite extensive

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.

Leadbeater’s Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) is a diminutive marsupial, distinguished by its large eyes and a lengthy tail, typically spanning around 30 centimeters in total length. This unique creature is predominantly nocturnal, making its home amidst the ancient eucalypt forests of Australia’s Victorian Central Highlands.

Crucial to its survival is the presence of old-growth eucalypt trees, characterized by their towering stature and the presence of expansive, well-established hollows, which serve as essential nesting sites for the possums. Leadbeater’s Possum colonies rely on having access to several of these suitable nesting trees, forming a network of interconnected habitats within their forested domain.

However, the distribution of Leadbeater’s Possum has become increasingly limited, primarily confined to small pockets of regrowth Mountain Ash forests within Victoria’s Central Highlands region. These forests, spanning from Toolangi through Matlock and down to the Baw Baw ranges, provide the necessary combination of old growth trees and suitable conditions for the possums to thrive.

Despite its once more widespread presence, Leadbeater’s Possum populations have experienced a notable decline since the mid-1980s. Several factors contribute to this decline, with bushfires and logging activities emerging as significant threats to both the possums and their habitat. The devastating impact of bushfires, coupled with extensive logging practices, has resulted in habitat loss and fragmentation, further exacerbating the challenges faced by this vulnerable species.

Efforts to conserve Leadbeater’s Possum and its habitat are ongoing, with conservationists and policymakers working to implement measures aimed at mitigating the threats posed by habitat degradation and human activity. Conservation initiatives include habitat restoration projects, the establishment of protected areas, and the implementation of sustainable forestry practices to safeguard the future of this unique and iconic Australian marsupial.

  • 1867
    First specimens were collected in the scrub on the banks of the Bass River in Gippsland, Victoria.
  • 1909
    LbP last collected from Sunnyside, in the high country near Omeo. The specimen was mis-identified and its significance was not realised until the 1930s.
  • 3rd April1961
    Eric Wilkinson rediscovered LbP at Cambarville and Tommy’s Bend, near Marysville in the Central Highlands
  • 1967
    Des Hackett secretly begins keeping Leadbeater’s Possums in his backyard in Blackburn
  • 1971
    LbP declared the Victorian State Faunal Emblem, alongside the Helmeted Honeyeater
  • 1972
    LbP first bred in captivity by Des Hackett
  • 2006
    Death of the last Leadbeater’s Possums in captivity in Australia
  • February 2009
    Black Saturday bushfires destroy around 45% of reserved LbP habitat and population numbers in the wild are halved.
  • 2010
    Kasia died 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 LbP’s from Lake Mountain (a population of around 300 having been destroyed in the 2009 fires) after a feral cat is filmed hunting near their nest box and a number of animals had ‘disappeared’. They are taken to Healesville Sanctuary. One later dies from unknown causes in its enclosure.
  • 2012
    Healesville Sanctuary
    begins a new Captive Breeding Program for lowland Leadbeater’s Possums from Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve (NCR). The program’s “founders”, wild possums, were brought into captivity to establish a breeding population. The breeding program is based only on the genetically distinct Yellingbo population of Leadbeater’s Possums. (June 2022, no breeding has been reported)
  • 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 (including areas currently available for clearfell logging) in a new Great Forest National Park.
  • April 2015
    EPBC (Federal) Conservation Status uplisted to Critically Endangered.
  • July 2015
    Action Plan states that revised Recovery Plan will be in place by mid-2016
  • November 2017
    The first hearing in the Possums’ Case in the Federal Court.
  • June 2019
    The full hearing of the Possums’ Case over three weeks in the Federal Court, Melbourne
  • June 2019
    Federal Conservation Status confirmed as Critically Endangered following an unsuccessful application to downlist by an industry lobby group. FLbP lobbies for release of revised Recovery Plan
  • May 2020
    Judgment in the Possums’ Case in favour of Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum on all counts.
  • June 2020
    Bunnings announces that it will no longer retail VicForests’ timber as a result of the court decision.
  • August 2020
    Final Orders in the Possums’ Case including declarations of unlawful logging and injunctions preventing further logging in 66 coupes.
  • September 2020
    VicForests lodges appeal on 31 grounds.
  • October 2020
    Translocation trial of Lowland LbP to Wallaby Creek in Kinglake National Park. After early indications of success, trial abandoned due to predation by a cat and remaining animals returned to Yellingbo.
  • April 2021
    VicForests appeal heard in Sydney.
  • May 2021
    VicForests appeal allowed on one ground. Other findings of fact were not disturbed and the award of costs against VicForests was upheld.
  • June 2021
    FLbP filed application for Special Leave to Appeal to the High Court.
  • September 2021
    Again, FLbP lobbies minister for release of revised Recovery Plan
  • November 2021
    A second translocation trial established at a site north-east of Mansfield.
  • December 2021
    Application for Special Leave to Appeal to the High Court refused.
  • June 2022
    FLbP lobbies new Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, for release of revised Recovery Plan
Friends-of-Leadbeaters-Possum_Distribution-Historic-and-Current_1080x1080

Historic distribution projection and current known locale.
Image: c/- Parks Victoria.

Friends-of-Leadbeaters-Possum_Leadbeaters-Possum-Distribution-Map

Some of the sites Leadbeater’s Possum fossils and records have been cited.
Photo: c/- Googlemaps.