Australian artist Peter Forward talks about his work:
My project: “Departure Lounge” in some ways extends the tradition of natural science art. The medium I use is discarded cardboard packaging, sourced from living trees, the home of many species as well as the lungs of the planet. Within the constraints of this medium, I try to represent Australian threatened small mammals as accurately as possible. My work also references the inherent threats that human needs pose to the existence of many species and ecosystems. I work with wildlife conservation scientists which has made me very aware of how poorly wild Australia is being treated: part of planet Earth’s current extinction crisis.
Australia has an appalling extinctions record, the worst on earth. “Squirrel Glider” [above] is one of 6 flying marsupials most of which are also declining. There is probably another in North Australia which has not yet been described formally – we are still losing species before we even have learned of their existence! As a developed and wealthy country I see no excuse, hence my arts activity.
Burrowing Bettong or Boodie (Bettongia lesueur): Once common in most of southern Australia, is now only found on tiny islands off the WA coast which have no cats or foxes. Now extinct on the mainland, the Boodie served a very important function in the Australian grassland ecosystem. As it foraged, it mixed organic matter into the soil, spreading fungi and seeds. This mixing also increased water absorption into the soil and reduced the combustible material under trees, decreasing the likelihood of fire. These actions helped maintain the balance of trees, shrubs, and grasses. The loss of small, ground-foraging animals after European settlement together with hard hoofed stock animals almost certainly contributed to widespread soil deterioration. Boodies live communally, several hundred can inhabit one site and warrens can be enormous. On introduction to Australia rabbits simply pushed the bettongs aside and took over the burrows.
Bilby (Macrotis lagotis): Bilbies would have to be the cutest animal you could imagine. They are a bit awkward-looking when they run or hop, but they have the poise of little ballet dancers. They are about the size of a rabbit but are adapted to very harsh, arid and extreme places. The favourite food is mycorrhizal fungi which most plants/trees here require (underground fungi – a bit like truffles). So they are out there digging every night turning over the desert sands. There were two species of Bilby but one is extinct. From the arid interior of Australia to the temperate coastal areas, Bilbies were common, but this was a hundred years ago. Today, changes in their habitat have seen their range reduced and their status listed as ‘vulnerable’. They are now in competition with introduced animals which graze on plants used by Bilbies. Foxes and feral cats have become the main predators. Even changing fire patterns have contributed to their demise in certain areas due to impact on type and availability of food sources. This has led to isolated populations surviving in pockets in arid regions.
Below: Leadbeater’s possum
Leadbeater’s possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri): This is an endangered small marsupial which is dependant on old growth eucalypt forests with established hollows for its home. As a result it is now located in small pockets of old growth Mountain Ash forest in Victoria’s Central Highlands. Its numbers are estimated to have peaked in the mid-1980s, when approximately 7500 were known in the wild. Since then, numbers have declined. Logging has impacted on its habitat and range. Devastatingly, the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 burned around 45% of its remaining habitat. There is now estimated to be around 1500 Leadbeater’s Possums remaining and it may soon be admitted to the critically endangered list. To protect this species we must protect old growth forests.