Julie Murphy (text) and Ben Clifford (illustrator), Tiny Possum and the Migrating Moths, CSIRO Publishing, November 2021, 32 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781486314621
With a text by former zookeeper and zoologist Julie Murphy, and gorgeously illustrated with double-page close-up images of the mountain pygmy-possum in its habitat, this is a book to treasure. The simply told text and its illustrations follow a year’s cycle of seasons for a female possum living high in Australia’s Southern Alps.
At each stage of the year there are dangers for this creature barely bigger than a mouse. Will it find enough bogong moths to feast on over summer, can it avoid the expert hunting of feral cats, will it have enough stores to see it through winter, and will the snow cover this year offer enough insulation for it to lie beneath? Will it find a mate in the spring, and will its four little nurslings make it to their own adulthoods?
Among the many uncertainties in the life of a pygmy-possum, some have been caused by humans. The threat of feral cats is one. Flying at night, the migrating bogong moths can become confused by the lights of cities in their path, while chemicals on crops can kill them along with many other migrating insects. Global warming threatens to remove the hibernating possum’s cover of insulating snow in winter. Without the snow the pygmy-possum would freeze and die. These possums are found in only one place on earth: in six square kilometres of the Southern Alps in Australia. Last century they were thought to be extinct, but in 1966 a live possum was discovered foraging in a ski lodge. Today they are critically endangered. They represent one facet of our fast-dwindling biodiversity in Australia.
There are many small and heroic efforts being made to protect them (e.g. motorists and households turning off their lights in the regional cities during September and October in the path of the Bogong moth, or rangers and volunteers taking supplementary ‘Bogong Bikkies’ into the wild to help the possums survive), but all this will not be enough if we do not keep global warming to a minimum.
This book does not take a political or rhetorical stance, but beautifully tells the natural story of this tiny possum and presents us with the scientific facts. It’s a wonder of a book.
Reviewed by Kevin Brophy