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February 18 is Bramble Cay Melomys Remembrance Day

A year ago the Australian government declared that the Bramble Cay Melomys was officially extinct. This little rat animal on a 5-hectare island some 50 kilometres off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Whilst it was once numerous, surveys in 1998, 2002, and 2004 estimated that the population was less than a hundred. Affected by sea level rises and increased tropical storms, surveys in 2011 and 2014 found no trace of the animal. Finally, in 2015 a rescue mission was sent. But by then it was too late; there was none left. Whilst the Queensland government declared soon afterward its extinction, the Australian government waited until 2019 for the official national declaration.

The world had witnessed its first mammal extinction due to climate change.

The Guardian cartoonist First Dog on the Moon wrote a superb piece of the day, declaring that Feb 18 would be known as Bramble Cay Melomys Remembrance Day, and gave a utopian message of what the tale would bring, but also with the conclusion: "None of this will happen - we have already forgotten this little creature".

As is my wont, I was determined not to forget; I marked the day in my diary. As the day approached I wondered what could be done. Now, as you would know Australian has gone through a period of horrific bushfires. More than a billion animals have died. A friend in Canberra remarked that Australia needs a memorial for extinct and endangered animals, to inform, to educate, and yes, even to grieve. I suggested extending it to a memorial and museum. A petition has been written that will be presented to the Australian parliament to establish such an institution. A Facebook group has been established. Flyers have been produced (including one in Chinese, for Year of the Rat). Groups of people will be meeting across the country (and I'll be starting in New Zealand) - and First Dog on the Moon has made a second cartoon.

All of this is just one small contribution in what is a global concern that arises from climate change and a wanting to provide a voice for the voiceless. Institutions have a degree of permanence and power, and in politics that makes them a good target for change. Demonstrations too, are effective, not just for the publicity and disruption to existing powers that they can bring, but also as a means of providing a sense of solidarity between those with a common interest.

Little brown rat, we will not forget you. We will fight for all the other endangered animals, as we did not fight for you.

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