This tiny rodent is the first known mammal to become formally extinct as a consequence of human-induced climate change.
The Morrison government, in Queensland, Australia, changed the status of the Bramble Cay melomys from endangered to extinct on Monday, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Geoff Richardson, an environment department official, told Senate estimates on Monday night that research efforts since 2014 – “including a pretty rushed trip in 2015” – had failed to identify any melomys individuals in their only known location on Bramble Cay, a tiny Torres Strait island near Papua New Guinea.
Declaring its extinction “was not a decision to take lightly,” Mr Richardson said. “There’s always a delay while the evidence is gathered to be absolutely certain.”
The federal extinction listing comes almost three years after the Queensland government reached a similar conclusion, with a finding that the demise of the melomys “probably represents the first recorded mammalian extinction due to anthropogenic climate change”.
The limited range of the animal, living on a five-hectare island less than three metres high, left it vulnerable to climate change.
However, its 2008 “recovery plan”, drawn up when numbers were likely down to just dozens of individuals, downplayed the risks.
“[T]he likely consequences of climate change, including sea-level rise and increase in the frequency and intensity of tropical storms, are unlikely to have any major impact on the survival of the Bramble Cay melomys in the life of this plan,” the five-year scheme stated.
Leeanne Enoch, Queensland’s Environment Minister, said the animal’s extinction showed “we are living the real effects of climate change right now”.
“We have consistently called on [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison and Melissa Price to show leadership on climate change, instead of burying their heads in the sand.”
Minister Melissa Price said: [It is] incredibly disappointing when any species is formally declared extinct, and everybody has feared the worst for some time, given the Bramble Cay melomys hasn’t been sighted since 2009.
“Our agencies will continue to focus their efforts on protecting species identified as priorities, supported by the Government’s $425 million investment in threatened species programs.”