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Australian animal declared extinct after decades-long search: 'Super sad'

  • Mountain mist frog not seen since 1990

  • Climate crisis set to cause more extinctions

  • 26 Australian species moved or were added to Red List

Australia’s extinction crisis continues to worsen with a critically endangered frog declared extinct on Saturday morning at the United Nations COP15 biodiversity conference in Montreal, Canada.

With no sightings since April 1990, Queensland’s mountain mist frog (Litoria nyakalensis) was uplisted on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

One of the last known places the mountain mist frog was recorded. Source: Professor Conrad Hoskin
One of the last known places the mountain mist frog was recorded. Source: Professor Conrad Hoskin

Once widespread across parts of the Wet Tropics, the species faced a number of threats including habitat loss and weather extremes, however the primary reason for its demise was amphibian chytrid fungus - an infectious disease that has spread across the globe.

For over 25 years, James Cook University’s Professor Conrad Hoskin has been searching the Wet Tropics for rare frogs. “We’ve looked in so many different places for it, but it has never turned up,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

Because the mountain mist frog hasn't been seen since 1990, it has seldom been captured on camera. Source: Stephen Richards
Because the mountain mist frog hasn't been seen since 1990, it has seldom been captured on camera. Source: Stephen Richards

Why has another Australian species gone extinct?

Chytrid fungus spread through the region in 1989 and then into 1990, flourishing in the region’s cool, wet conditions. Professor Hoskins and his colleagues scoured open eucalyptus forests which acted as disease refuges, hoping to find a surviving population.

In 2008, his team found a number of armoured mist frogs (Litoria lorica), a species that hadn’t been seen for 17 years, and this buoyed hopes they may also find mountain mist frogs. Thirteen years on, Professor Hoskin thinks the extinction listing is the “sensible thing” to do.

The armoured mist frog (Litoria lorica) was missing for years. Source: Professor Conrad Hoskin
The armoured mist frog (Litoria lorica) was missing for years. Source: Professor Conrad Hoskin

“It’s super sad and it's a great loss to loss to be officially ticking off on another species as extinct, but to me I think it's been pretty obvious for years,” he said.

What must we do to save Australia’s wildlife?

This year, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek set a goal of no new extinctions in Australia. While the mountain mist frog declaration was made during her term, it likely went extinct under in 1990 - well before she entered parliament.

Minister Plibersek announced a string of environmental reforms on Thursday, which include plans to tackle the climate crisis. This is because a string of critically endangered species protected by the Commonwealth face extinction from temperature increases caused by the burning of gas and coal.

Another species Professor Hoskin is researching, the neglected nursery frog (Cophixalus neglectus), was uplisted to critically endangered by the IUCN overnight. Climate change will likely be the reason it and a number of other mountain-top-dwelling species are declared extinct in the coming years.

Nursery frogs like Cophixalus neglectus face extinction due to climate change. Source: Professor Conrad Hoskin
Nursery frogs like Cophixalus neglectus face extinction due to climate change. Source: Professor Conrad Hoskin

Although the Albanese government has committed to reducing emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, Australia remains one of the world's biggest exporters of fossil fuels, the burning of which causes the planet to warm overseas and at home. Non-profit Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said solutions to the extinction crisis must include strong action to tackle climate change and environmental laws that don't "cut corners".

“As our climate warms, many mountain-nursery frogs which already live on top of mountains have got nowhere to go,” ACF campaigner Jess Abrahams said. “They will join the Bramble Cay melomys as unique Australian species that have been driven to extinction because of climate change.”

Was there any good news for Australia?

In total 26 Australian species were added, or had their status changed on the Red List - most of them were native orchids. There was however, one piece of good news, the Australasian bittern was down-listed from endangered to vulnerable.

“(This was) largely because many of its key remaining breeding wetlands have now been protected, while others are being restored, demonstrating the importance of habitat protection,” Mr Abrahams said.

Environment Minister responds to Red List update

In a statement released to Yahoo News Australia, Minister Plibersek responded to the IUCN Red List update.

“Australia has around 1600 orchid species, 90% of which are found nowhere else in the world," Minister Plibersek said.

“While these 23 species were already listed under national environment law, listing them on the global stage shows that we are determined to take responsibility and act to protect some of our most threatened species.

"Listing a species is the first step in getting the attention and the help that it needs.”

Minister Plibersek is yet to issue a comment directly about the extinction of the mountain mist frog. She will attend the COP15 biodiversity conference in December.

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