Extinctions aren't sexy but they're rolling along very nicely these days. Worldwide, it's estimated one species goes to God every 20 minutes and Australia's record of mammal extinctions is a miserable first.
This year, a tortoise named Lonesome George died, aged over 100. He was the last Pinta Island tortoise in the world. Who knew? Threatened species are just a blip on most people's radar, preoccupied as we are with everything from balancing the budget to the latest model iPhone.
Why should we care? Another species loss is just par for the course; they've been dying out since the Jurassic, right?
Every threatened species occupies a niche in nature that can't be replaced. Threatened species, too, point to places we need to look after better.
When frogs in a wetlands die off, it alerts us to problems in those wetlands; when migratory birds disappear, we're forced to look at their summer and winter homes and the places they stopover on the way, and address potential problems.
It costs a lot of money to save threatened species but we have to try. We owe it to the creatures we've displaced, with our need for endless economic growth.
One way to raise awareness is to use public art. At the time of writing, Melbourne Zoo had embellished the CBD with colourful, artistic models of Mali, the first elephant calf produced by its breeding program.
Indian elephants bred at the Zoo will never go back to the wild, but they have a cuteness factor that helps raise awareness of the plight of many other animals. Melbourne Zoo is committed to fighting extinction of a range of creatures that most of us have never heard of. Their work raises important conservation issues.
How will animals survive as humans push into increasing portions of their habitat? How will those that rely on the planet's tropical and seaside environments fare when the sea level rises and the temperature increases?
As it happens, climate change is predicted to cause a whole lot more extinctions. In the meantime, Australia already has a whopping 1786 threatened species listed under the federal Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act.
That's why Zoos Victoria is helping to breed several threatened species, including the Tasmanian Devil and the Orange-bellied Parrot. If you're interested, you can do something to help with their conservation.
Twenty native species of southeast Australia have been identified as requiring urgent attention.They include animals as disparate as the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect and the Tasmanian Devil. All are part of captive-breeding programs at the Zoo in Parkville or at Healesville Sanctuary.
Donations of money are always welcome, and you can target your gift to this program or several others.
As close to home as the supermarket, you can improve the lot of animals by buying recycled toilet paper. By 'wiping for wildlife', recycled paper helps prevent the logging of old-growth forests and saves millions of trees destroyed every year. This improves the survival of animals that require old, hollow trees to nest in, like Leadbeater's Possum.
If you 'wash for wildlife', you commit to buying phosphate-free products for the kitchen and laundry, helping to prevent the build-up of toxic algae in our waterways. The effects of phosphates threaten the platypus and many waterbirds.
The 20 priority native threatened species comprises eight mammals, three birds, eight amphibians and one insect - the 'locals' we are encouraged to love. Most are creatures we're unlikely to see in the wild unless urgent action occurs.
Several have 'friends' groups which organise various events ranging from surveys (species counts) to planting events and fundraising.
Leadbeaters Possum is Victoria's faunal emblem and the subject of recent controversy around the logging of old-growth forest at Toolangi in the Yarra Ranges. This animal suffered terrible losses in the Black Saturday bushfires and is now extinct in the Marysville area. Friends of Leadbeater's Possum organises winter feeding and summer surveys (nest-tree vigils) as well as more political conservation work.
The Tasmanian Devil is being decimated by an infectious facial cancer, so captive breeding of healthy Devils is a priority.
Orange-bellied Parrots are Australia's rarest bird, with fewer than 50 left in the wild. Healesville Sanctuary is one of five facilities breeding them and currently houses 20 breeding pairs. The latest news about the effort to save this distinctive, bright-green bird can be found at Save the Orange-bellied Parrot.
Of the 20 species, at least six can be viewed at Healesville Sanctuary, including the Orange-bellied Parrot, the Helmeted Honeyeater, the Tasmanian Devil and the tiny Mountain Pygmy Possum. The gaudy Southern Corroborree Frog is on display at Melbourne Zoo.