For the melomy, and other small mammals everywhere
It is the morning of Tuesday, 14th June 2016. Mt French, Queensland. A woman rolls over and opens her eyes. Last night’s wind is gone, replaced by an eerie stillness. Somewhere on the plateau an unseen bird makes a plaintive call.
The night sky is lifting to mauve and soon she will unzip the tent, poke her feet out the mesh door, pop them into a pair of old ugg boots and walk along a dirt path to the car. There, she will collect two bags of food, stored away from the skulking nocturnal scavengers – pesky possums in particular – and bring them back to the picnic table.
Silently she removes a bowl, a cup, unpacks the stove: the morning ritual.
By the time she finishes breakfast the sun is streaming in thick beams through the eucalypt forest. A skink scampers across the table and into the warmth. The day has begun.
She finds the dishwashing kit and a museli bar for lunch. The yellow sponge has tiny nibble marks on it. She touches the sharp little bite marks in the soft material and flicks her head to one side, her brow crinkling. Then she turns the muesli bar over and runs her index finger over the gnawed foil packaging.
Somewhere on the same continent around the same time, journalist Michael Slesak is putting the finishing touches on his article for The Guardian’s Environment section. The headline: ‘Revealed: first mammal species wiped out by human-induced climate change’.
The woman gathers her things and walks to the car. She opens the door and takes everything out, shaking it as she does: two spare jumpers and a climbing rope; a bag with a computer, three books and some charger cables; helmet, surfboard and a jug of motor oil. There’s more, too. She piles everything up on the rough asphalt. Then she sits and waits.
The sun hasn’t moved far when a tiny brown body flees across the car boot, followed by a long tail. Her body sharpens and she pounces. There it is. It scampers under the car seat.
She squints into the darkness. One eye in the shadows, she reaches for a bag and retrieves the gnawed museli bar, which she separates into single oats and sultanas, lining them up just outside the car door. Then she waits.
Around the same time, someone logs onto Wikipedia and updates the Conservation status of the Australian Bramble Cay melomy to Extinct.
The Bramble Cay melomy was a small animal, and Australia’s most isolated mammal. It used to live on Bramble Cay, a small sandy island built over the top of coral in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In a world of crustaceans, corals and sea creatures, it was the only mammal endemic to the reef.
Bramble Cay is an unlikely home for a mammal. Sparsely vegetated and no larger than three football fields, its highest point is 3m above sea level. Nevertheless, it is an important pit-stop for many animals, including green turtles and some sea birds.
Over the past few years, rapidly rising sea levels – 20cm in 109 years – and increasingly frequent storms have seen Bramble Cay melomy numbers dwindle quickly. Queensland conservationists took note and made plans to protect the species through a captive breeding program. When they returned to the cay to collect the animals, not a single one remained.
This year a report was released, quietly acknowledging this as probably the first mammal extinction caused entirely by human-induced climate change.
One morning, a woman rolls over and opens her eyes. Last night’s wind is gone, replaced by an eerie stillness.
The night sky is lifting to mauve and soon she will unzip the tent, poke her feet out the mesh door and pop them into a pair of old ugg boots.
At the picnic table, silently she removes a bowl, a cup, unpacks the stove: the morning ritual.
By the time she finishes breakfast the sun is streaming in thick beams through the eucalypt forest. She finds the dishwashing kit and a museli bar for lunch. The day has begun.