Walking With Platypus

Kangaroo Island, Australia

We left the great tourist attraction of Admirals Arch where seals played in the waves and bathed in the sun. It was time to find a picnic spot to refuel. The first sign we saw on the road directed us to Platypus Waterholes walking trail. Wishing to find a quiet place to ourselves, but without any knowledge of the area, we set out for the ponds. A map by the car park showed us the loop trail for Platypus Waterholes has a few “quiet areas” on the 2 hour circuit. With the scrubby bush around us providing shade, we knew we would find the perfect place to dip our cucumber sticks into some hummus.

The crunch of red rock beneath our boots created a steady rhythm for the twitter of bird life flitting about us. The gentle curves of the path guided us between the burned out trunks of Banksias and under the new growth of Eucalypts as we drifted between waterholes. We perched our bums on a fallen tree trunk by the waters edge and listened to the life around us. Between the crunching of carrot sticks a symphony of insect calls and trills soothed our ears. I appreciated the ambient noise for silencing my mental chatter and I simply sat there soaking in the melody and watching the tannin stained water reflect blue sky.

Educational signposts along the walking trail describe more that just the flora and fauna of the area. A picture of a sprouting Banksia details the evolutionary adaption of plants to survive a bushfire. Another sign explains how a termite mound may be food for an echidna, or an incubator for goanna eggs. At many of the waterholes are viewing platforms and numerous signposts with plenty of information on the precious ecosystem of the water below and how it is able to support a healthy colony of platypus.

The platypus are an introduced species on Kangaroo Island with 15 individuals being released into Flinders Chase National Park between 1928 and 1946. Now there is a healthy population in the Rocky and Breakneck river catchments. This isolated colony is the only confirmed wild population in South Australia. Platypus were once numerous in the state, but hunting until the early 1900’s and human impacts to the landscape resulted in the extinction of the animals in mainland South Australia. Though platypus are now a protected species and are in no immediate danger of becoming extinct, they were placed on the IUCN Red List for “Nearly Threatened Species” in 2016 due to declining numbers.

Platypus and their food source rely on steady streams of fresh water and shallow lakes. So it is not surprising or difficult to understand that the number one cause of population decline is habitat loss and degradation due to human impacts. We alter the natural flow of river catchment systems by building dams for human, industrial, and agricultural consumption. This disruption of water systems causes fragmentation of habitats and isolates populations of platypus. Downstream from dams the river systems become dry and unreliable, increasing the impacts of drought in these areas. Fishing, yabby nets, and other sources of rubbish entangle platypus causing injury and death. Removal of native vegetation for forestry and livestock erodes riverbanks, increases water sediments, reducing water quality. The increasing occurrence of toxic run-off from urbanisation has resulted in, among other things, pharmaceutical drugs entering the food chain. These examples are just small pieces of a much larger picture of how humans are damaging the Earth and driving our fellow Earthlings to extinction. But we don’t see it as an issue until it impacts human life.

The future of the platypus is uncertain, with the threat of more extreme weather systems due to climate change, we will see more droughts and the competition for dwindling water sources will increase. The loss of platypus numbers is caused by human impacts on their local habitats and the human impacts on global warming. If the platypus becomes extinct it will be because we don’t care to leave an environment untouched. Areas that are undamaged by humans are becoming increasingly rare. We do not see the importance of a healthy environment to us, or to the other beings we share this planet with. We do as we please with the land we claim — we destroy it, construct on it, and command it as a display of strength. I think there is no greater display of strength than to look upon something pristine and reject your impulse to modify it for your own purposes. To not base the environment’s value on its potential to sustain the modern comforts of human life, and instead observe its value to sustain other Earthlings if it is untouched.

~ Sam


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