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Australian Wildlife: More than Kangaroos and Koalas

The first animals that may come to mind when thinking about Australia are kangaroos and koalas. But Australia boasts a huge number of other unique animals. Australia's position as an island separate from the rest of the world has resulted in a broad range of animal and plant species. . For example, 400 of the 800 species of birds in Australia are found nowhere else in the world.

There are two main types of mammals in Australia: the monotremes and the marsupials. Monotremes are egg-laying mammals. Marsupials give birth to very immature young and carry them in a maternal pouch.

Kangaroos are marsupials found only Australia and New Guinea. Although not usually seen in large cities, kangaroos are easy to spot outside heavily urbanized areas. The eight-foot tall red kangaroo and the tiny ten-inch rat kangaroo are only two of the 90 different species of kangaroo.

Koalas are a favourite with tourists, but most do not get a chance to see one in the wild. These marsupials dwell high up in Australia's eucalyptus trees and usually sleep during the day. Koalas are dependent on Australia's eucalyptus trees as their only source of food.

Other Australian animals include:

Wombats -- small, bear-like marsupials.
Echnidas -- small monotremes with long snouts, short legs, long spines and sticky tongues used to collect ants.
Emus -- large flightless birds found in rural farming areas.
Platypuses -- aquatic mammals often thought to be the link between sea mammals and land mammals.
Saltwater and freshwater crocodiles -- the closest living relatives of the dinosaurs.

Unfortunately, despite the great biodiversity and relatively low human population, the rate of mammalian extinction is greater in Australia than anywhere else in the world. Two hundred years ago there were about 144 different kinds of marsupials, now there are only 134. Nineteen other marsupial species are endangered.

Extinction has occurred partly because of the introduction of new species to Australia. In 1935, the poisonous cane toad was imported from Hawaii to decrease the number of cane beetles, which were eating sugar cane. The toads were supposed to eat the beetles, but instead have killed some of Australia's native mammals that have tried to eat the poisonous skin of the toads.

The introduction of foxes, brought to Australia by sportsmen in the 1860s, and house cats has also led to a decrease in native species. In Western Australia, ten native mammals have become extinct where foxes and feral cats roam. These predators are now targeted with poison to protect other native marsupials. Camels, which explorers used to ride across The Outback, horses, water buffalo and dingoes were also imported to Australia and have caused problems. Dingoes are kept out of sheep farming country in Queensland and South Australia by a 10,000-km fence around The Outback.

Another problem in Australia is the clearing of forests for logging and farming. Nearly 75 per cent of the rainforests and 35 per cent of the woodlands in Australia have been cleared.

Australian Conservation Authority

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