Meet the Forest Fairy, a Magical Marsupial From Australia

Video screen capture. Joel Satore/National Geographic

Nesting in tree hollows and flitting about the forest under the stars, the critically endangered cutie becomes the 7,000th species in Nat Geo’s Photo Ark project.

Documenting every creature in the zoos and wildlife sanctuaries of the world is clearly a daunting task, but National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore is doing it with aplomb. He has made it to the 7,000th animal in the project, the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum, also known as the forest fairy.

The National Geographic Photo Ark is a multiyear project aiming to photograph every species living in captivity. Founded by Sartore, the aim is to document the planet’s biodiversity, as well as to find novel ways to save endangered species and protect their precious habitats. The marsupial shown here makes its home at the Healesville Sanctuary, part of Zoos Victoria, in Australia.

Native to the acacia forests of central Victoria in Australia, the forest fairy is named for the way it nests in tree hollows and quickly scampers about the forest at night. And as is becoming the fate of so many species, habitat loss from land clearing has led to fragmented populations; timber harvesting and forest fires have been the grim icing on the cake. National Geographic reports:

The species was missing in action for more than 50 years before being rediscovered by botanist Eric Wilkinson and two of his colleagues as they ventured into the woods near Marysville, Australia, on the evening of April 3, 1961.
With some estimates for the lowland population as low as 50 possums, the species has recently been upgraded from endangered to critically endangered. Zoos Victoria is hoping to start breeding them soon to increase their population.

With portrait number 7,000 completed, Sartore has a mere 5,000 species to go in order to reach the goal of 12,000 animals. Nobody ever said that being a modern day Noah, camera in hand, would be easy ... it’s a project of biblical proportions, after all. But what an important and amazing project.

“I want people to care, to fall in love, and to take action,” says Satore. And with an assist from the irresistible lure of creatures like the forest fairy, consider the mission well on its way to being accomplished.