Limited Edition Lea Stein Brooch
The White Lemuroid Ringtail Possum, a rare colour morph of the species Hemibelideus lemuroides (see photograph) is primarily confined to the cool, misty rainforests above 1,100 metres on a single mountain range - effectively an island in the sky
- in tropical northern Queensland, in northeast Australia.
ABOUT THE WHITE LEMUROID (YUWA)
The white possum population which inspired the creation of the brooch resides on the traditional lands of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, who know this beautiful animal as the yuwa (pronounced yowwah) in their language. For many years, this iconic Australian animal was very popular with tourists, who visited Mount Lewis in droves to spy on white possums at night with powerful spotlights. After a severe heatwave hit the region in late 2005, dead possums of several species were found along forest roads and the yuwa seemed to have vanished.
Professor Steve Williams has been researching the rainforest possums for over 20 years and was among the first to notice the yuwas decline after 2005. Steve and his team of researchers from Australias James Cook University searched more widely and after an exhaustive effort, finally found four individuals alive in a small pocket of forest. It seems that the heat wave, which saw the temperatures being too hot for the yuwa on 27 consecutive days that year, caused a large decline in the population to the point where we could barely find them for a number of years says Prof Williams.
Continued monitoring by Williams and his team indicates that the species might be slowly recovering, but it is still under significant threat. This is great news, but the real worry is that the intensity of summer heat waves is increasing steadily and the next bad summer could finish this beautiful animal off for good.
A leading expert on tropical forests, Australian Laureate and James Cook University Distinguished Professor Bill Laurance, warns that the yuwa may be the first species to become extinct as a result of climate change and suggests it be adopted as an icon for global warming, as the tropical species endangered by global warming probably outnumber their polar counterparts by 1000 to 1.
Tropical-zone species like the yuwa are thermal specialists, adapted to a narrow, stable temperature range and therefore, intensely vulnerable to temperature changes. Professor Andrew Krockenberger, a physiologist from James Cook University, has shown that the yuwa cannot survive at temperatures above 28 degrees Celsius. Because of this, most tropical species are limited to particular elevations and most mountain dwelling species find sweltering lowlands unbearable and become isolated on particular peaks. Animals endemic to mountains in the tropics are considered to be among the most vulnerable as the world gets hotter, because they have nowhere to go.
Professor Williams was among the first in the world to warn about the potential catastrophe looming for mountain top species. My observations in 2003 completely changed the direction of my research career and I wrote a paper that year, suggesting that 50% of all the animals that I studied in the Wet Tropics might go extinct this century. Unfortunately, the signs are that this prediction is starting to come true, perhaps even a little sooner than I originally thought.
This special piece has been a collaboration between a Politician (Christine Milne) a Professor (Sandra Harding) an Artist (Lea Stein) and a Business Owner (Bruna Harrison of Harlequin Market). The image in the form of a brooch of the White Lemuroid Ringtail Possum (Yuwa) has been produced by French artist Lea Steinfor the purpose of bringing attention and awareness of the plight of this endangered species.
The White Possum population which inspired the creation of the brooch resides on the traditional lands of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji, in tropical northern Queensland in northeast Australia. After a severe heatwave hit the region in late 2005, dead possums of several species were found along forest roads and the Yuwa seemed to have vanished.
Above from left - JCU Vice Chancellor Sandra Harding, Senator Christine Milne, Leader of the Green's Party, Harlequin Market Business Owner Bruna Harrison and Professor Bill Laurence