Mountain pygmy possum populations separated by the Great Alpine Road in Victoria will soon have a new, specially-designed tunnel to help them meet a mate. There is already one tunnel on the slopes of Little Higginbotham. The new one will be at Cherokee Corner. The project needs $300,000 of funding to make the tunnel a reality.
The following article is from Nicole Asher of the ABC.
Alpine highway underpass to help rare mountain pygmy possums meet a mate
Plans are in place to build a rocky corridor under the busy road to improve access for the threatened possums on Mount Little Higginbotham, following the success of a similar underpass built nearby in the 1980s.
The ground-dwelling marsupials, also known as burramys, live in boulder fields and were thought to be extinct, until one was discovered at Mount Higginbotham in the 1960s.
The Great Alpine Road and the Mount Hotham Alpine Resort infrastructure separates populations of the mountain pygmy possum, making it difficult for them to interbreed.
Typically, females of the species live further up the mountain, with males relegated to less favourable terrain lower on the slope.
Mount Hotham Alpine Resort management board project manager Georgina Boardman said infrastructure got in the way of males travelling up the mountain to female populations at breeding time.
“If they can’t get to the the girls up the top when the breeding season’s on, then the breeding season is not as successful,” she said.
Ms Boardman said there were concerns a catastrophic event such as a fire could wipe out populations, or prevent them from breeding.
“There’s a real issue that they might disappear from those areas completely and that we might have to start a whole conservation movement to reintroduce them, which we would rather not to have to do,” she said.
“By building this tunnel, we’re hoping to remove the need to have to take those interventions here at Hotham.”
The resort has been working with the Victorian Government to develop strategies to connect the populations and improve genetic diversity.
Plans for the creation of the new mountain pygmy underpass at Cherokee Corner have been completed, but the project needs $300,000 of funding to make the tunnel a reality.
‘Tunnel of love’ to give mountain pygmy possums a helping hand
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning senior biodiversity officer Jerry Alexander said the possums needed help to ensure the Mount Hotham population thrived.
Mr Alexander said the “tunnel of love” built in the 1980s had successfully reconnected populations separated by the road.
“Possums from above the road and below the road are isolated from each other.
“The planning and design phases have now been completed for the new corridor, in collaboration with the Mount Hotham resort management board.”