The tiny Mountain Pygmy-possums (Burramys parvus) hibernate during winter in snow laden boulder fields on the coldest slopes of the Snowy Mountains. In summer they emerge to eat the migrating Bogong moths and the fruits of the Mountain Plum pine. Fewer than 500 individuals exist in NSW due to predation, loss of habitat, global warming and competition with skiers.
The Mountain Pygmy-possum was first found as a fossil. It was thought to be extinct until 1966 when a possum was discovered in a Mount Hotham ski resort in Victoria, Australia.
Fossil evidence for relatives of the Mountain Pygmy-possum has been discovered in four states of Australia. 20-10 million years ago Burramys species were present at Riversleigh in Queensland. 24 million years ago, they existed at Lake Palankarinna in South Australia. More than a million years ago, they were to be found at Wombeyan in New South Wales. 4.5 million years ago, they lived at Hamilton in Victoria.
In 1990 the total Mountain Pygmy-possum population was estimated at 2635 individuals. In 2010, the population was estimated at 2075. In Mount Buller, one of the four remaining habitats of this possum, the Pygmy-possum population has declined by 80%.
The Mountain Pygmy-possum is the only marsupial in the world to hibernate for long periods under the snow during the coldest months of the year. It is also Australia’s only hibernating alpine marsupial (animal with a pouch).
The Mountain Pygmy-possum could be the very first animal which is adapted by scientific breeding programsto be reintroduced into a completely different habitat, as its alpine habitat is under intense threat from climate change.
11 cm long (head and body), with a tail up to 14 cm long, Mountain Pygmy-possums are small enough to fit comfortably in your hands. Mountain Pygmy-possums weigh an enormous 45 grams!
These possums like to eat the fruit of the Mountain plum pine, berries, fleshy fruits, Bogong months, insects, nectar and seeds.
Mountain Pygmy-possums exist within an area of less than 5 square kilometres. These possums live above altitudes of 1400 metres, in the Snowy Mountains of Southern NSW and North-Eastern VIC. There are three Mountain Pygmy-possum populations left, with major sub-populations located within ski resorts. The possums live at Mt Buller VIC, Mt Bogong-Mt Hotham VIC and Kosciuszko National Park NSW. As global temperatures increase, the possums’ habitat is receding as the snowline is pushed higher.
Mountain Pygmy-possums are under threat from predators such as feral cats and foxes, invasive plant species, habitat loss, climate change, inbreeding, depleted food sources, fires and human intervention into their habitats.
Mountain Pygmy Possum Surveys
In 2003, funded by the Foundation, Dr Linda Broome, re-assessed the total population size and distribution of the possum, completing her work after the recent fires in Kosciuszko National Park.
Captive Breeding Program
The Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife has been funding projects to secure the future of the Mountain Pygmy-possum since 1978. Conservation efforts to date have involved habitat protection, and fox and feral cat control, and will continue into the future. Today, we are asking for your help to fund a captive breeding program to bolster numbers of Mountain-Pygmy possums.
Feral Cat Control Programs
The Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife supported feral cat control programs in the habitats of Mountain Pygmy-possums. This initiative will help the Mountain Pygmy-possum hang on in its diminishing snowy environment.