Wombat Warriors: Creating a future for Tasmanian wombats

Tasmania boasts a number of unique and interesting species of fauna including the much loved wombat. Tasmania’s Common Wombat – Vombatus ursinus tasmaniensis, is now threatened with becoming an uncommon species on the island. This has led to a name change; now this large burrowing mammal will be known as as the Bare Nosed Wombat.

Like other wombat species, the Tasmania subspecies is under threat from mange mites – Sarcoptes scabiei. The female mite attaches itself to the wombat, burrows under the skin and lays eggs. The wombats’ response to this infestation causes issue with keratinisation of the skin, leading to thick scabs over the body including the eyes which leads to blindness. These scabs eventually crack causing secondary infections. After months of agony the wombat eventually dies. Studies have shown if left untreated, this infestation is almost always fatal.

Unfortunately in Tasmania there has been little done in the way of population research. Dr. Scott Carver from the University of Tasmania has been leading the field when it comes to researching mange infestations in Tasmanian wombats. “Sarcoptic mange appears to infect wombats widely across Tasmania.”  The extent to which this mite pathogen impacts wombat populations varies across the state.

Anecdotally, reports of wombat populations being severely impacted predominate in low lying coastal areas. Most notably, research at the University of Tasmania has documented a large scale decline of wombats at Narawntapu National Park. Research is currently underway into disease management tools and techniques in order to restore this threatened population.” Currently the only access to wombat mange information is through reports from private landholders and the UTAS research group. Treatment of mange is currently the responsibility of the land owners. People such as the family on the Cockatoo Hills property are keen to tackle this harsh and cruel infection.

Conservation Volunteers Australia, in partnership with Highland Conservation Pty Ltd, and with the support and imparting knowledge of Mange Management (Katja Gutwein) and UTAS (Scott Carver), recently undertook a wild treatment project in the centre of Tasmania. The privately owned site, near Bronte Park, boasts up to 4000 acres of threatened Poa grasslands, waterfalls and towering eucalyptus bushland that predates European settlement. The property owners GPS mapped over 800 wombat burrows and selected 200 more active burrows for treatment flap installations. The treatment flaps are simple but effective; when the wombat enters its burrow it receives a dose of cydectin to treat the infestation. Although fairly new, this treatment has been shown to be effective in Victoria with wombats completely recovering from the infestations.

Conservation Volunteers Australia sent a team of 10 volunteers to assist in the installation of treatments and monitoring of wombats on the property. We camped among the hakea trees by night and trekked through the grasslands by day. By Sunday, all 200 of the flaps had been successfully installed and satisfaction was at an all-time high. Volunteers were a mix of Tasmanian university students, local residents, and international exchange students – a handful even made a special trip from interstate to be a part of this project. Lucy Holdsworth, a UTAS student, joined the project because she had previously heard of wombat mange and thought that it was a great chance to help, instead of sitting back and turning a blind eye to the issue. She thought it would complement her degree. Jenny Baxter joined to learn more about wombats and to help with what seemed like a very worthwhile and meaningful project. Being new to the state, she was also keen to meet other people with similar interests and to see the Central Highlands area.

On completion, volunteers were tired, but the inspiration still radiated from their exhausted faces. There are high levels of satisfaction on a project that directly makes a positive impact on Tasmanian wildlife.

“The trip meant a lot to me because it meant that we could solve one of many issues that Tasmanian wildlife has been forced to endure. I know the project isn’t going to cure mange for all wombats, but it meant that we were able to give even a few wombats a little bit of a chance against mange that otherwise would not have been there. I think the project overall meant that we could make a slight dent in a major issue,” said Lucy. Conservation Volunteers Australia will continue to source funding and partnership opportunities to run similar projects around Tasmania so the future of the wombat is more secure than that of the Tasmanian Devils.

 

Get involved

Conservation Volunteering Projects in Tasmania – Conservation Volunteers Australia