Australia is quite well known for being a place of creepy crawlies, big spiders and a range of other interesting (and occasionally deadly) animals. But the country is also one of the world’s most important sites of biodiversity (being one the 17 ‘megadiverse’ countries) and, did you know, it has more species than any other developed country? Before the arrival of humans, Australia was home to megafauna: three-metre tall kangaroos, seven-metre long goannas, horse-sized ducks, and a marsupial lion the size of a leopard. It is also the only continent, other than Antarctica, to not have native hoofed animals. The country has a phenomenal rate of endemism – with 87% of the mammal species, 93% of reptiles, 94% of frogs and 45% of birds found only in Australia. Also, around 91% of the country is covered by native vegetation.
The array of species are endless to list, but include the fascinating mudskipper and Australian lungfish; butterflies, giant earthworms and giant clams; spiders like the infamous redback, golden orb weavers, the Huntsman and wolf spiders and mammals like Tasmanian devils, koalas, wombats (which, did you know have cube-shaped poo?), possums and of course, kangaroos. Evolving in such isolation has left many species on this list with unique appearances. And this diversity is reflected across landscapes, from the top of the 80-metre high karri trees right down into the depths of the world-renowned Great Barrier Reef: the planet’s largest living structure.
At the same time, the country also has one of the worst mammal extinction rates in the world with 1 out of 3 of the mammal extinctions in the last 400 years occurring here. Also, it is among the top seven countries worldwide responsible for 60% of the world’s biodiversity loss between 1996 and 2008. There are currently a wide range of endangered species including the Rufous hare wallaby, Gouldian finch, numbat, paradise riflebird and northern Quoll. Threats to biodiversity include the loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitat, spread of invasive species, unsustainable use of natural resources, climate change, inappropriate fire regimes and feral cats and foxes. Our conservation volunteer programmes in Australia are specifically directed at counteracting some of these main threats, with activities including tree planting, walking trail construction, wildlife surveys, seed collection, weed control, conservation fencing and heritage restoration. Across the volunteer projects, you get the opportunity to visit incredible sites that tourists often don’t get the chance to see and be on the front line of conservation efforts while learning valuable skills.