Aussie Environmental Minister: Climate Change Drives First Mammal to Extinction

Bramble Cay Melomys
Auscape/UIG via Getty Images

The Australian Minister for the Environment issued a press release last week that made headlines around the globe, not because it said the government would put in place “stronger protections for endangered species,” but because a small rodent on the endangered species status list had been moved to the extinct category.

The Bramble Cay Melomys that once lived on an island off the coast of Australia had this status listed: “Transfer from the Endangered Category to the Extinct Category.”

“Climate change officially killed off its first mammalian species earlier this week, when Australia’s environment minister moved a small coast-dwelling rodent from the endangered to the extinct list,” Bloomberg reported.

The conclusion comes because the tiny mouse-like rodent has not been seen since 2009.

The Washington Post reported on the last sighting of the Bramble Cay Melomys:

There had been “a heap of sticks and a smashed up dug-out canoe at the northwestern end of the island.” When Stewart flipped over the pile, a few of the furry critters took flight across the island.

This was the last time, researchers believe, anyone saw a Bramble Cay melomys, a rodent round in body, long in whisker and lumpy in tail.

Researchers have suspected for a while that the Melomys rubicola had become the first mammal to go extinct because of human-made climate change, and, earlier this week, the Australian government confirmed it.

Another Australian government official, Geoffrey Richardson, assistant secretary in the Department of the Environment and Energy, told Senate members researchers have been unable to find melomys on Bramble Cay, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Richardson said the new distinction “was not a decision to take lightly,” as it would mean the mammal would no longer receive government protection. “There’s always a delay while the evidence is gathered to be absolutely certain,” he said, according to the Herald.

The media reports, however, did not explain exactly what protections would be taken away.

Sen. Janet Rice, of the Australian Greens party, called the extinction a “tragedy” on Twitter.

“After the Australian government’s decision this week on the animal’s extinction, Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said it shows that ‘we are living the real effects of climate change right now,’” the Post report said.

Forbes’ report on the rodent, however, indicated that can’t be certain that the animal is extinct.

Although they have never been recorded there, the Bramble Cay melomys may still exist in one location: the Fly River delta in nearby Papua New Guinea. However, as the planet continues to warm, nearly 10% of species on Earth could be driven to extinction, further endangering this hypothetical melomys population.

“The listing of species is critical in coordinating recovery efforts across all States and Territories and builds on the $425 million the Government has invested in protecting and preserving Australia’s most threatened species since coming to office,” the press release announcing the rodent’s fate said.

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