25 Jan 2022


Platypus are facing a silent extinction. Take action now to protect them and their habitat! 

It’s been more than 50 years since platypus were last spotted in Sydney’s Royal National Park. WWF-Australia is working to change this with our partners at University of New South Wales (UNSW) Platypus Conservation Initiative, Taronga Conservation Society Australia, and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Platypus lived for millennia in the creeks and rivers of Sydney’s Royal National Park, but threats brought by humans caused this elusive water-dwelling monotreme to become locally extinct. That’s why WWF-Australia has committed to a three-year plan that will see our team working with ecologists and national park staff to monitor and manage threats and identify the safest possible habitats available in the region to return platypus to their old home.

Rob Brewster holding a platypus during a habitat survey
© WWF-Australia / Rob Brewster

The journey to rewild the platypus is well underway, with teams of researchers conducting source population surveys, water quality testing and invertebrate (food source) monitoring. Plus, there’s even *eDNA testing to confirm that there really are no platypus hanging on in the Royal (*‘environmental DNA’ is where we look for trace genetic material in water to confirm the presence or absence of a species). This is all in preparation for the translocation later this year. WWF-Australia’s Rewilding Project Manager, Rob Brewster, has been out in-the-field collecting platypus data. He recently visited a survey site on the Kangaroo River in NSW with UNSW platypus researcher Tahneal Hawke. Rob chatted with Tahneal to discuss the vital work going into this exciting project.

How do you conduct a platypus survey?

Patience is a virtue for a platypus researcher. We head to the location on Kangaroo River in the late afternoon and often stay overnight out in the cold until the sun is high in the sky. Beanies, sleeping bags, and thermoses are definite essentials when surveying in the cooler months! If you’re with a team, you can take watch-shifts to sneak in a nap, but most of the time, we’re up all night looking for signs of platypus.

Platypus like to live in waterways surrounded by lush riparian vegetation, so that’s what we look for when setting up a survey. Once we find the right location, we use an unweighted gill net or fyke nets in shallower sections of river, and then we wait. Platypus swim from bank to bank when foraging, so the idea is that as they search for food, they bump into the gill net and come to the surface for air. Fyke nets block the river channel and funnel platypus in through a one-way chamber where they can rest in or out of the water. We then remove them from the net, process it by taking a number of samples, and release it back to the river.

UNSW platypus researcher Tahneal Hawke processing a platypus
© WWF-Australia / Rob Brewster

Platypus are elusive creatures, and trying to spot them in the dark isn’t easy! Sometimes we can go all night without finding any. But with time and patience, we usually spot at least one platypus during a survey collection. The more we find in a single survey, the better we can determine that population’s size.

Why is it important to survey these platypus populations?

There are many steps to cover before carrying out the platypus translocation to Sydney’s Royal National Park. These platypus surveys will help identify multiple healthy platypus populations for the translocation to Sydney. That way we can ensure a platypus gene pool for the Royal National Park that is as broad as possible.

Our field surveys also help us identify any existing or potential threats we can help mitigate. Landclearing impacts the stabilisation of the banks on which platypus are reliant for burrowing and can also influence water sedimentation. With the impacts of climate change, invasive predators, and water infrastructure, platypus are faced with a frightening combination of threats.

Rob holding a platypus he and Tahneal found during a platypus survey
Rob Brewster holding a platypus found during a platypus survey © WWF-Australia / Rob Brewster

What is your hope for the future of the platypus?

Rewilding the platypus is in full swing and it’s very exciting to see the cogs turning on this project. Every time we go out in-the-field and conduct these surveys, it gives hope that with a little intervention, we can learn how best to restore populations of platypus and begin to turn around the declines in this iconic species. There’s still much to be done, but it’s a wonderful thought that the next generation of visitors to the Royal might be able to experience the thrill of spotting this iconic species in the wild, like so many generations of Australians did before them.

And finally, what’s the correct plural for platypus?

This is one of the most common questions about platypus! While it’s a hot topic for debate, I’ve only ever called them “platypus” for both singular and plural. I’ve heard everything from “platypuses”, “platypodes” to “platypi”, but in my opinion, “platypus” is the only correct plural!

Platypus are facing a silent extinction. Take action now to protect them and their habitat!