Bandit fights for precious habitat

An elusive platypus swimming in the Obi Obi River, Maleny

Who would have thought that one shy platypus in danger would lead to 10 being sighted in a single visit to one of South-East Queensland’s most beautiful locations, less than 90 minutes north of the state capital, Brisbane?

What’s a platypus?

Platypus are elusive, semi-aquatic, monotremes (egg-laying mammals) with a duck-like bill that doubles as a specialised sensory organ, webbed feet with venomous spurs plus a dense, fur coat that protects them when they dive under water.

Because these much-loved Australian native mammals burrow, shelter and lay their eggs in the sides of creek banks, they are particularly vulnerable to habitat degradation, litter and pollution.

In March 2019, an elusive platypus surfaced with a rubber band around her torso. This prompted local Maleny residents to report the distressing sight to a local wildlife group.

The platypus quickly became known as ‘Bandit’ and her predicament triggered a special Clean Up Australia Day Event on March 3, co-ordinated by a local resident.

An enthusiastic group of local volunteers scoured riverbanks, bushland and creeks, removing debris and litter from this otherwise unspoiled environment. 

It was solely human behaviour that had tarnished this beautiful creek and its surrounding riparian zone, threatening the habitat of a then unknown number of platypus.

Less than six months later, with three clean-ups since completed, local residents have been richly rewarded.

Up to 10 platypus have been sighted traversing the again-pristine waterway, along with other wildlife that call the lush bushland and creek area home. 

Where was Bandit sighted?

Bandit was seen in the Obi Obi Creek, which weaves its way through the lovely Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Maleny.

While the entire Sunshine Coast Regional Council accounts for well less than 0.1 per cent of Australia’s land area, it contains more than 10 per cent of the nation’s known plant species, more than 25 per cent of its known mammal species, and more than half of its known bird species.

One local photographer, Neil seems to have a knack of spotting these elusive creatures, so much so that Maleny locals have dubbed him “the platypus whisperer”.

Neil routinely sees numbers of this shy monotreme on his walks and is always keen to share insights into these elusive mammals.

Back in March, Neil photographed and named Bandit after identifying her as a female.

Since then, Bandit’s rubber band has dislodged and she is free to roam once more.

However, because platypus ferret around the bottoms of creeks looking for food, the consequences could have dire had her rubber band been caught on a log or other debris. 

Water pollution and climate change

Pollution, whether it be found on beaches or in waterways, only magnifies the effects of climate change.

As air temperatures rise, so too will water temperatures, and they will do so even more rapidly in smaller bodies of water.

This reduces the level of dissolved oxygen in the water, placing more stress on fish, insects, crustaceans and other aquatic animals, including platypus.

Visitors to the Obi Obi River and its surrounds have the power to reduce pollution in and around waterways by remembering a useful saying: take only memories, leave only footprints.

  • If you want to watch out for platypus at Maleny, there’s a special viewing platform along the Obi Obi Boardwalk. Early mornings and dusk are best, but you have to be very quiet and very patient. Don’t forget your camera!

Words by Debra Harrip

Photograph by Debra Harrip