Healesville Sanctuary is celebrating the birth of seven critically-endangered mountain pygmy-possums.
There are only about 2000 of the species left in the world, and tiny marsupial mums Bev and Plum have bolstered the population.
“The arrival of these joeys is a breakthrough as we have had low breeding success with wild females in the past,” Zoos Victoria reproductive biologist Dr Marissa Parrott said.
She said climate change presented a significant threat to the remaining wild populations, so Zoos Victoria has been working with the Mountain Pygmy-Possum Recovery Team to develop an emergency response strategy.
“The strategy’s goal is to understand these tiny possums – everything from diet and behaviour to breeding preference and social structure, so we can help protect them in the future,” Dr Parrott said.
Determining the possums’ special requirements, such as annual hibernation in captivity, has been a key focus.
After more than a decade of work, the last piece of the puzzle was to successfully breed wild females in captivity.
“We now have confidence that we can breed and care for these beautiful possums and have a successful toolkit in place if the situation in the wild worsens or there is a catastrophic event, like a major bushfire, in the future,” Dr Parrott said.
Mountain pygmy-possums are Australia’s only true hibernating marsupial.
They live in alpine regions and weigh as little as 35 grams.