Surprising reason so many Aussie animals have gone extinct: 'Out of control'

While the world was advancing for humans, dozens of species were being wiped out from their natural home ranges.

In the last 60 years, mankind has walked on the moon, invented the internet, discovered DNA, and created the Walkman, Playstation, and Facebook. There's also been gains in the rights of minorities, women and even animals.

Distracted by this progress you’d be forgiven for not noticing that since the 1960s, Australia has wiped an estimated 23 animal species from their home ranges. Those aware of this embarrassing loss would probably imagine the country’s shocking rates of land clearing were primarily responsible, but you’d be wrong.

In the 1960s, Beatlemania was sweeping Australia and the country switched to the decimal currency.   Extinctions: Lesser bilby, central hare-wallaby, Victorian grassland earless dragon.
Source: Getty (Left) / Thomas Oldfield (Right)

A new report has found that invasive species were behind the loss of 17 animals. With the world more globalised than ever, the Invasive Species Council (ISC) is warning the nation may not be ready to prevent a new pandemic wiping out many of our beloved native species.

“Mobility of people and products is accelerating madly — it’s getting out of control,” report author Tim Low told Yahoo News Australia. “Look at the way Covid-19 jumped out of nowhere and took over the world. That can happen with any kind of disease affecting any kind of plant or animal.”

Australian animals extinct since the 1960s includes 23 probable wild extinctions of animals since the 1960s, including three that survive but were wiped out of their wild home ranges.

Does this mean we shouldn't care about habitat loss?

"No, certainly not," was Mr Low's blunt response.

In the 1970s, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established and the first Mardi Gras parade was held in Sydney.  Extinctions: Desert bandicoot, southern day frog, Lake Pedder earthworm Kuchling's longnecked turtle.
Source: Getty (Left)/David Staples/Museum Victoria (Right)

Habitat loss remains a critical threat to many iconic Australian species including koalas, which were listed as endangered in 2022. Mr Low is arguing that if we want to prevent extinction then there needs to be a focus on preventing biosecurity threats to our wildlife.

"There's a very strong bias in the way biosecurity is run — it's all about protection agriculture... we need a rebalancing so that it focuses much more on the things that could cause extinction," he said.

Why fungus, plagues and flu are a threat to Australia

One key area of concern is bird flu, which has already wiped out millions of birds and swept across every continent except Australia and Antarctica. It could enter Australia through migratory birds.

In the 1980s, Bob Hawke celebrated winning the America’s Cup and Crocodile Dundee took the world by storm.  Extinctions: Southern gastric brooding frog, northern gastric brooding frog, Gravel-downs ctenotus, Christmas Island shrew, Lyon’s grassland striped skink.
Source: Getty (Left)/Michelle Farlane/Museum Victoria (Right)

But the illegal importation of crayfish into the country could be equally devastating because it could transmit a plague pathogen that’s already known to have resulted in mass mortalities across Europe and Asia. It could wipe out 22 native species of spiny crayfish in Australia.

Although the focus of the ISC report is animals, invasive pathogens also risk obliterating entire plant species. There are 16 across NSW and Queensland at imminent risk of extinction from myrtle rust. This fungus was found to have invaded Australia from South America in 2010, despite Australia’s border security knowing it posed a threat.

In the 1990s, Australia voted against becoming a republic, 35 people were killed during the Port Arthur Massacre.  Extinctions: Mountain mist frog, sharp-snouted day frog, Pedder galaxias, Kangaroo River Macquarie perch.
Source: Getty (Left)/Martin Cohen Right)

Top invasive killers

  • 6 species — Chytrid fungus

  • 4 species — Cat and wolf snake

  • 2 species — Fox

  • 1 species —Trypanosome parasite, black rat, trout

Habitat loss and climate change have also contributed to the loss of Australian species.

In the 2000s, Sydney hosted the Olympic Games, Australia sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.   Extinctions: Northern tinker frog, white-chested white-eye, Christmas Island pipistrelle, Bramble Cay melomys.
Source: Getty (Left)/Martin Cohen (Right)

Will invasives be the biggest killers in the future?

Mr Low expects invasive species to continue to be the biggest driver of extinction in Australia until the end of the century.

Australia lost a concerning number of frogs since the 1990s. Eight further species have a high risk of becoming extinct from disease by 2040 and a further five species have a low to moderate risk of being wiped out by climate change. Several species of native fish are also under threat because of the introduction of trout.

In the 2010s, Australia had five separate Prime Ministers, the country experienced severe drought.  Extinctions: Christmas Island forest skink, blue-tailed skink, lister’s gecko
Source: Getty (Left)/Dr Hal Cogger (Right)

By the end of the century, he expects climate change to take over. So far, Australia has only lost one species to climate change, the Bramble Cay melomys. "If we get 4 degrees increase in climate change, it'll be catastrophic," he said.

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