Mammal extinction

No-one has seen a live Bramble Cay mosaic-tailed rat since 2009. It’s the first mammal to disappear completely because of human-made climate change.

Bramble Cay rat
State of Queensland / CC BY 3.0 AU

Bramble Cay is the northernmost point of Australia. One of the Torres Strait islands, this tiny island is made of sand, low vegetation, some volcanic rock, and a whole heap of bird guano. At its highest point the island is no more than three metres above the surrounding ocean.

The cute little critter pictured above is the Bramble Cay mosaic-tailed rat. Hundreds of these rats used to live on the island, eating plants and turtle eggs and presumably enjoying the beautiful Torres Strait sunsets. Thanks to island speciation (the process by which new species arise from isolated populations of animals) this particular species didn’t exist anywhere else. Which became a problem when humans began messing up the global environment.

Every year, the sea level crept up a little bit more. Every year, storm surges got a little bit worse. By 1998, fewer than a hundred rats were estimated to be left on the island. By 2004, scientific expeditions could find no more than a dozen, and by 2009 they could find none at all. In 2015, the mosaic-tailed rat was declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

This is significant because the Bramble Cay mosaic-tailed rat is the first mammal to be completely wiped out by climate change. It almost certainly won’t be the last.


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