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The Plight of the Southern
Hairy-Nosed Wombat


the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat

 

 


Distribution of the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat
(this map is featured in "Mammals of Australia" edited by Ronald Strahan)

 

 


Brigitte Stevens and Frank Mikula work to
repair a wombat wing eagle wing

 

 


This wombat burrow (on public land) was re-opened by WAO, with the help of original Wildlife Warrior Bob Irwin, after it had been bulldozed by a neighbouring farmer. A wombat was found alive inside!

Another burrow that had also been re-opened (in the background behind this burrow) - where a wombat joey was heard after having been buried alive - has again been completely destroyed by the land owner, maybe re-trapping live wombats inside.

 

 


Work carried out by WAO includes wombat gates in areas of fenceline where wombat activity is high
(you may notice that these gates look unused - that's because the farmer once again ploughed the burrows after WAO carried out mitigation work).

 

 


Another victim of roadkill - the pouch of this dead mother shows that an at heal joey was orphaned as a result of her death.

 

 


Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat with Sarcoptic mange

 

 

 


A happy, healthy wombat at Portee Station

 

 

 


How will you help to save the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat?

The wombats plight…

As with much of our wonderful wildlife, the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat is in trouble.

Major threats include roadkill and injury, predator attack, habitat loss and urban development, burrow destruction and the debilitating infestation, Sarcoptic mange.

Mange is a relatively new disease for the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat. Whereas mange has been present in the Bare-Nosed Wombat species for a long time - and some consider that the Bare-Nosed Wombat has built up some immunity to it - mange has only recently found its way into Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat populations and because of this it is hitting the species hard, as it has no immunity, and entire local populations are being wiped out as a result.

The biggest threat to the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat is us. Humans.

With urban development, farming practices and financial income placed as a much higher priority, the wombat doesn't stand a chance. The species is officially classified as "common" however many believe that they are vulnerable, barrelling head first into the same predicament as the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat.

Although a native animal to Australia and here long before us and our farms, many believe the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat to be vermin, a pest that is to be exterminated. Many farmers have this view because they believe wombats destroy fences, and because a wombat may have up to twelve burrows in its home range with three to four main burrows whichy will house a network of subtunnels, including multiple entrances and sleeping quarters, which can also damage fields.

It is on this subject that my story is written - the belief that wombats are vermin, the cruel and unusual practice of burrow bulldozing and the people who are trying to stop it. The unsung Wombat Warriors.

Wombat Warriors at work…

In June I had the pleasure of visiting Brigitte Stevens and Frank Mikula of the Wombat Awareness Organisation (WAO) in South Australia.

My visit was scheduled for just after the National Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference and for the purpose of checking out Brigitte and Frank's tireless work to save the southern hairy-nosed wombat from decline.

I've been in contact with Brigitte for some time now. She contacted me for support and advice and I was only too happy to help out such a worthy cause and such dedicated Wombat Warriors.

As Brigitte's and my relationship grew from wildlife colleagues into a lasting friendship I learnt more and more about their work and the wombats' plight. And it isn't good news on the latter front.

It was distressing to learn that the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat is in a great deal of trouble in South Australia. Although it is the state's official fauna emblem, the wombat holds little value in South Australia and government authorities, such as the Department for Environment and Heritage (DEH), seem to be turning a blind eye to the problems that face the wombat.

One problem in particular that I found rather distressing is wombat burrow destruction. Culling - both legal and illegal - have long been present in the species, but unfortunately it is seldom carried out in a humane and legal fashion. As an easy alternative, wombat burrows are plouged in, completely demolished, and often while wombats are still inside. This would obviously lead to a slow and painful death for the wombat or wombats trapped inside the burrow.

The act of burrow bulldozing in a huge problem in South Australia. There are many farmers who consider the wombat to be a pest - vermin - an animal that only causes damage to crops and fences. It is not seen for the magical and mysterious native species it is.

I've actually lost track of how many times Brigitte has called me in deep distress, to tell me that yet another farmer has bulldozed burrows. What makes it even more terrible is that oftentimes burrows on public land, and land that is well out of any plough or cropping line, are also demolished. Each time WAO reports the incident to DEH and also to the RSPCA, highlighting the very real possibility that wombats have been buried alive. Most times these incidents are not followed up.

To combat the problem of burrow bulldozing WAO initiated the Wombat Mitigation Project, a program to help farmers co-exist with wombats by developing and implementing viable alternatives to wombat culling.

At WAO's expense, measures are taken to eliminate the need for culling permits that, sadly, seem to be issued by DEH far too often. Granted, wombats can cause damage to farming activity; land erosion, damage to fences and other infrastructure and grazing competition. But there are alternative options to culling and it is these options that WAO provide to farming communities.

There are currently 72 properties participating in the WAO Wombat Mitigation Project. Most of these are located in the Murraylands area and include the localities of Cambrai, Sedan, Sandleton, Eudunda, Kapunda and Dutton. As stated previously, all the work is done free of charge on the participating properties in return for complete wombat protection.

Work carried out by WAO include repairs to fences, revegetation using endemic flora of the region, installation of wombat gates, installation of "wombat friendly zones", implementation of wombat repellants, rabbit control, educating the community on the importance of the wombat and why wombat destruction isn't an effective choice, and ongoing support. In dire situations when farmers don't agree to any of these alternatives; translocation of wombats.

And all this work is carried out primarily by just three people; Brigitte, Frank and their "wombats-little-helper" Clare Jans. Each day one or more of the team travels the length of the active wombat zone looking out for road kill, orphaned wombats, wombats effected with Sarcoptic mange and burrow destruction.

During my three days with Brigitte she took me to some of these locations. We seemed to drive forever - along WAO's usual and well beaten track - in search for wombat mishap. One day we found a freshly killed female wombat, another victim of roadkill. Looking at the pouch of the wombat we noticed that she had been a mother with a joey at foot, evidenced by the long teat protruding from the pouch. Brigitte immediately set the area for surveillance, calling in help to monitor the wombat in the hope that the joey could be trapped and rescued.

Day two and I was shown around Portee Station, a 17,000 acre property abundant with wild Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombats. As we drove around what I like to call "Wombat's Paradise", Brigitte told me of the hunters who regularly enter the property illegally and either terrorise or kill the resident wombats.

We also saw a wombat suffering from Sarcoptic mange. As I strategically manoeuvred closer and closer to this wombat for the best photo possible, Brigitte urgently called me back as she recognised the signs of mange, which I was surprised to see, looked quite different from the mange effecting their Bare-Nosed Wombat cousins. If frightened, a Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat will dart into its burrow and stay there for days without re-emerging. As Brigitte immediately made plans to return and install a mange self treatment flap - another of WAO's projects - to the burrow she didn't want the stupid photographer scaring the wombat into the burrow where it would not be able to be treated for this dreadful and debilitating disease.

WAO, with the help of other like minded conservation organisation, are hoping to purchase Portee Station and create a wombat conservation zone. A place where wombats - and in fact, all wildlife - will be protected and conserved forever.

Help save a species...

WAO needs help. Purchasing such a large parcel of land of course costs big money and donations are always welcome.

Donators will not only be helping a worthy cause established by two very dedicated Wildlife Warriors, but will be helping to create a haven for our wonderful wombats to survive and flourish in.

Help isn't just about monetary donations, volunteers are also welcome - your chance to get up close and personal with the wombats. You can learn more about Wombat Awareness Organisation and their work by visiting www.wombatawareness.com.

The Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia also works hard to conserve the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat as well as its cousins, the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat and the Bare-Nosed Wombat. You can learn more about WPSA's wombat work at their website - www.wpsa.org.au.

Wombat conservation…

I guess my main aim with this story is to create an awareness for the plight of the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat. And to challenge government authorities to step up to the game and ensure that the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat does not end up like its cousin, the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat, that is high on the critically endangered list.

We need to protect and conserve all our wombats NOW, and not wait until they are classified as "critical" before any work is done to ensure their survival.

How will you help to save the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat?

 

This story was written for the Wildife Preservation
Society of Australia's
"Australian Wildlife" Magazine.
Spring issue Vol: 4 / 2010


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