Last year, hundreds of millions of animals were killed in the massive bushfires that spread across Australia and nearby islands. Now, for the first time since the fires, researchers have found a little pygmy possum on Kangaroo Island.
The little animal was feared to be wiped out after the devastating fires last year.
Little pygmy possums live in Tasmania and small patches of SA and Victoria, which were ravaged by fires that destroyed the local habitat.
Fauna ecologist Pat Hodgens said the discovery was made on the west of the South Australian island.
"There's only really been 113 formal records of the species [ever on Kangaroo Island]. So certainly not very common and, obviously, the summer bushfires burnt through much of that habitat that species had, but we were certainly hopeful that we would find them," he said.
Hodgens said the little pygmy possum was a difficult species to find and study because they are so small. The one that was found recently on the island weighs just 7 grams. In fact, this species is known as the world's smallest possum.
The status of the little pygmy possum (cercartetus lepidus) was unknown pre 2020 bushfires on #kangarooisland. With most of its habitat severely burnt we are happy to have detected the species for the first time since the fires in the largest unburnt patch #BushfireRecoveryAU pic.twitter.com/tSRjPunDZ8
— Pat Hodgens (@terrainecology) December 4, 2020
The tiny creature was discovered by a conservation group called "Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife" which has been a major part of the region's recovery efforts.
Hodgens said his team is working hard to survey the area for surviving animals, "to try to do everything we can to protect them to ensure that they hang around during this pretty critical time".
"It's very important now because it is kind of like the last refuge for a lot of these species that really rely on very old long, unburned vegetation," he said.
The team has had other successes in their studies as well. In addition to the pygmy possum, they have also found 20 other wild species still living on the island including a bibrons toadlet, a southern brown bandicoot, and a tammar wallaby.
However, researchers are still very worried about the animals that they haven't been able to find.
"We don't know a lot about that species because it is pretty rare around the island and also fairly susceptible to the wildfire events. Even with all fauna survey efforts and camera trapping that we're doing, we're still yet to locate an individual swamp rat," he said.
Sadly, researchers estimate that over a billion animals perished in the wildfires, with many others facing grave circumstances after their habitat was destroyed.
The damage caused by these fires is actually many times greater than the highly publicized fires in the Amazon late in the summer of 2019. In fact, the Amazon is just one of many regions all over the earth that have been burning over the past year.
Furthermore, because many fires are intentionally set to make room for agricultural businesses, fires are now appearing in parts of the world that do not typically experience such things, like the artic circle for example.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, over 100 major fires were reported in the Arctic Circle last year, which is a record number for the area.