Australia’s largest gliding arboreal (tree-dwelling) marsupial, which weighs up to 1.1kg – about the size of a cat – can cover up to 100m in a single glide, steering through the air with a half-metre-long tail.
Up to the late twentieth century, Greater Gliders (Petauroides volans, meaning ‘flying rope-dancer-like’) were thought of as one common species of gliding possum, distributed along Australia’s far east from Bundaberg to Victoria.
In 2020, advanced genetic taxonomical research revealed that what was previously thought to be one species was actually three distinct species: Southern (P.volans, east Victoria and east NSW), Central (P.armillatus, southeast Queensland) and Northern (P.minor, northeast Queensland) Greater Gliders. The genus is not closely related to the Petaurus genus that contains all other Australian Gliders, and shares its sub-family with only the Lemuroid Ringtail Possums.
Significant logging in Victoria, New South Wales and southeast Queensland – resulting in the removal of vast swathes of hollow-bearing trees that Greater Gliders depend on – combined with increased frequency and intensity of bushfires and higher night-time temperatures due to climate change, has caused the species to decline by almost 80% in some areas.
Southern and Central Greater Gliders have recently been declared ‘Endangered’ under both State and Commonwealth legislation. Northern Greater Gliders have recently been listed as ‘Vulnerable’ under Queensland legislation as well as nationally.
Due to the genus’ steep decline outside of northeast Queensland, the sub-montane northern wet sclerophyll forests in our region now represent important sanctuaries. There are four populations of Northern Greater Gliders in Protected Areas within the Gulf Savannah NRM area along its eastern boundary: Mount Lewis National Park, Baldy Mountain Forest Reserve, Undara Volcanic National Park and Blackbraes National Park. These populations comprise the most north-western distribution of the species, with only one further north at Mount Windsor National Park.
With funding support from the Queensland Government, Gulf Savannah NRM recently took a group of local school students on a field trip to Blackbraes National Park to complete nightly fauna surveys for the Northern Greater Glider. Waiting for nightfall, the students took part in a range of educational and cultural activities, including a presentation on bush first aid with Ewamian elder Lewis who shared how to use bush plants to cover wounds.
We were fortunate to spot four Northern Greater Gliders and several possums during our two nights of surveying.
Have you seen a glider in the wild? You can help scientists and conservationists by reporting sightings to the Queensland Glider Network. Visit wildlife.org.au/queensland-glider-network to get involved.