A possum and a sense of place
For Dr Dan Harley, there is still hope for the lowland Leadbeater's Possum. A threatened species biologist at Zoos Victoria, he is at the forefront of efforts to save Victoria's critically endangered faunal emblem.
Apart from captive breeding programs, he has been working with Trust for Nature on what he calls "Town Planning 101".
That means creating "homes" and "highways" where possum families can survive and thrive. At a basic level this involves conserving and restoring what little possum habitat we have left in lowland areas where more than 95% of its favoured vegetation has been wiped out.
While most public attention has been focused on the campaign for the Great Forest National Park in the Central Highlands, important habitat sites for lowland possums still exist around Yellingbo and through the Yarra Ranges.
That is where Trust for Nature has been concentrating its efforts, helping secure more than 150 hectares of private land over time - land that is now held by the Crown as part of the Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve. The land includes the kind of dense swamp forest preferred by not only Leadbeater's Possums but also the critically endangered Helmeted Honeyeater.
Referring to the possum, Dr Harley said: "Trust for Nature has played a fundamental role in the protection of the last lowland Leadbeater's Possums at Yellingbo. The best habitat for the possum in the reserve was secured by the Trust - without it, the population would probably now be extinct."
Only 38 lowland Leadbeater's Possums are left in the Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve. But Dr Harley believes the area has a carrying capacity of 300 if habitat can be improved through revegetation, stimulating natural regeneration and improving hydrology.
Dr Harley also recounted many evenings spent in search of the possum, an elusive creature that weighs less than an apple and is expert at hiding from view.
"The forest at night is an extraordinary place," he told the audience. "Searching for Leadbeaters has taken me to hidden gullies and starlit glades. What this possum has done is give me a sense of place."