- they have been described as "The Hobbits of the Australian
bush". They are secretive creatures who spend most of their
time asleep underground, venturing out in the cool, dark of
they are rarely seen wombats remain a mystery to most people.
There are many Australians who have never even seen a wombat
in the wild. The wombat is certainly one of Australia's lesser
known marsupials, unlike the koala and kangaroo.
has three species of wombat: The Bare-Nosed Wombat also known
as the Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus), the Southern
Hairy-Nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus latrifons) and the Northern
Hairy-Nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii), also known
three species of wombat are in trouble, facing many and varied
threats - some of these threats are more severe than others.
Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat - Australia's second most endangered
animal - is at the top of the concern list. Ironically, it is
also considered the most secure of the three species as much
work has been done - and is being done - to save the species
from tipping over the edge of extinction. In the entire world
there is only 216 Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombats left, classifying
the species as endangered by the Australian Federal Government
and Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
are no Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombats in captivity and there are
only two wild populations, one is located in central Queensland:
Epping Forest National Park (Scientific) near Clermont and The
Richard Underwood Nature Refuge near St George is in Southern
is thought that the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat was already
a rare species at the time of European settlement, although
it could be found in pockets of inland Eastern Australia from
Victoria to Queensland. After European settlement however the
species declined further due to habitat loss, farming and predation.
By mid 1970's it was estimated that there were only 35 individuals
left in one single population at Epping Forest.
the implementation of Queenslands Department of Environment
and Heritage Protection (EHP) "Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat Recovery
Plan" which included projects such as the erection of the wild
dog fence and the installation of water and feed troughs through
the park the species saw a slow but steady increase.
2000 the first Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat Hair Census was conducted,
where hair samples were collected (using double sided sticky
tape traps at burrow entrances) and DNA extracted to determine
the number of individuals in the population - 113 at that count.
In the same year, a pack of dogs entered the area and at least
ten individuals were killed. The 20 kilometre wild dog fence
was erected as a result. Ten individuals was a huge loss to
an already fragile population.
volunteers from around the globe helped to conduct a Hair Census
every two to three years from then on. The 2003 census recorded
a decline to 90 wombats, as a result of the dingo predation
event. The 2007 Hair Census counted 138 individual wombats.
The DNA analysis results from the 2010 hair census and with
breeding occuring at RUNR there are thought to be around 216
have been several sightings of wombat joeys at Epping Forest
and two births have been recorded at the new colony at the Richard
Underwood Nature Refuge (RUNR). This new colony at RUNR began
with the first individual being flown from Epping Forest in
2009. Neil was his name - named after Neil Armstrong, the first
man on the moon because he was flown down on the 40th anniversary
of the moon landings, on July 21 2009.
more wombats followed over a period of around thirteen months,
travelling by plane - dubbed The Wombat Express - and by road.
pitter patter of little feet at RUNR - along with new young
viewed at Epping Forest - has heralded a major success for the
Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat Recovery Plan. The first RUNR joey
ventured out of its burrow in early October 2011 and was captured
on video frolicking at the burrow entrance. The second joey
appeared only a week later. The news caused quite a commotion
and celebration among wombat conservationist throughout Australia
and the world.
2010, two very observant (and oh so lucky) caretakers at Epping
Forest - Stephanie Clark and Wayne White - quite literally stumbled
on a young Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat in desperate need of
named by Stephanie and Wayne, was found huddled up in a small
burrow, far away from any burrow systems. At first they thought
it was a Swamp Wallaby, but when they pulled the small animal
out they found a Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat joey. She was in
a bad way - incredibly dehydrated, distressed, with patches
of fur missing and blisters on her feet.
wildlife carers, Stephanie and Wayne knew what to do and first
aid was provided. Once settled, Harriet was sent to Tina Janssen
who cared for Harriet until release. Harriet was later renamed
"Princess Hobo" as she turned out to be true "little miss" as
is the wombat way!
AKA Princess Hobo, was successfully released at RUNR.
With two separate colonies established the Northern Hairy-Nosed
Wombat is now protected from disasters such as drought, fire
and disease- which was a concern when only the one colony at
Epping Forest existed.
such as the Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia and The
Wombat Foundation are helping to raise awareness of the Northern
Hairy-Nosed Wombat. The Wombat Foundation has recently announced
the inaugural "Hairy-Nosed Day" on May 11th. On Hairy-Nosed
Day, which will be a yearly event, schools are invited to pitch
in to help save the endangered species by wearing hairy noses
and collecting donations that will directly aid the conservation
of the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat.
Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat is not as well protected as its
greater in number there are many threats that face the Southern
Hairy-Nosed Wombat: land clearing, farming and competition with
domestic stock, predation, roadkill and injury, disease and
illness, introduction of pest species and - rather disturbingly
- human persecution.
In South Australia there are several isolated pockets that are
home to Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat, namely the Nullarbor Plains
and Far West, the Eyre Peninsula, the Gawler Ranges and the
Murraylands with smaller colonies dotted around Yorke Peninsula.
Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat can also be found in the south-eastern
corner of Western Australia which makes up part of the Far West
Murraylands and Far West regions are the main strongholds for
the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat and are considered to be a "continuous
population" where as the Yorke Peninsula has thirty four smaller,
isolated colonies with an estimated count of about 690-odd individuals,
as tallied in studies conducted by Dr Elisa Sparrow and the
University of Adelaide from 2006 to 2008.
with the once single colony of Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat (before
the RUNR translocation) these smaller isolated pockets of Southern
Hairy-Nosed Wombat are under serious threat from fire, drought
recent history the debilitating and most often fatal disease
Sarcoptic Mange entered colonies of Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat.
As a relatively new disease Sarcoptic Mange has created havoc
in many Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat populations. It is thought
that the Bare-Nosed Wombat has - over many years - built up
some resistance to the disease, however the Southern Hairy-Nosed
Wombat has been hit hard and local populations have been decimated.
Similarly, a new disease discovered by the Wombat Awareness
Organisation (WAO) of South Australia in mid 2011 has done great
damage to the status of the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat. WAO
estimated that 70% of the Murraylands Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat
population has been affected by the dreadful, mysterious disease.
Wayne Boardman and Dr Lucy Woolford, vets with Adelaide University,
are currently researching the disease. Initially, it was thought
it was a fungal infection, however it is now thought to be a
toxic liver disease, brought on by the ingestion of a weed known
as potato weed. This weed is site specific meaning not all the
population are likely to be impacted, but it is only a new disease
and much more research needs to be done.
weed, which was introduced to southern Australia in the 19th
century and has since spread across most of the continent, contains
pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), chemicals that protect them from
insects but which can be fatal or dangerous to many animals.
an individual shows signs of the disease, the downward slide
is rapid. Onset is fur loss, then malnutrition and finally organ
failure. Many wombats have died. Many were saved by the quick
actions of WAO and other organizations. Good Southern Hairy-Nosed
Wombat habitat is now hard to find. Many landowners view the
wombat as pests as burrows are often dug within productive farm
land and so wombats are eradicated or dispersed into areas of
not so favourable land with little food, water or suitable soil
for digging burrows.
is heartening to see that not all land owners think this way.
Dr Elisa Sparrow conducted a statewide survey in 2011 and 2012,
and whilst some landowners saw wombats as a nuisance or pest,
more than 80% of landowners believe wombats should be conserved
and believe co-existence between landowners and wombats is possible.
The Natural History Society of South Australia (NHS) is one
conservation organisation that is purchasing good habitat where
the wombats are protected. Portee Station near Blanchetown in
the Murraylands district is one such parcel of land.
2020 hectares of Portee Station was purchased by NHS is now
protected and wombats have been thriving in the good quality
habitat. The reserve was established in 1968 and is called Moorunde,
Edward Eyre's name for the area. Eyre was the first European
settler who, along with his Aboriginal friend Wylie, crossed
South Australia from east to west by foot.
hectares of land surrounding Moorunde have since been purchased
by NHS and a fifty kilometre long wildlife corridor now exists
in the region. It is thought that there are around 2000 individual
Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat living on the extended Moorunde
due to dry conditions of late, the habitat and grass cover at
Moorunde and Portee Station has deteriorated somewhat. Potato
weed and other weed cover, together with over grazing by other
species such as kangaroos, has left very little edible grasses
for the wombats and they are forced to eat unfamiliar species
like the deadly potato weed, which is causing the often fatal
toxic liver disease.
Natural History Society of South Australia is now re-seeding
native grasses at Moorunde with the help of volunteers. They
are also allowing some areas to regenerate by enclosing them.
most disturbing news for the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat is
human persecution. Some landowners view wombats as pests and
burrows are considered a huge inconvenience. Burrows are quite
simply ploughed over by some landowners - trapping live wombats
deep within the warren style burrow systems. These wombats are
doomed to die a slow and painful death without air or food.
Bob Irwin along with volunteers from WAO made news headlines
in 2010 when they entered land to re-open ploughed burrows.
Wombats were seen and heard by Bob and his team within these
burrows - even young joeys were seen! Unfortunately, it would
seem that wildlife authorities in the area do little to combat
this cruel and inhumane practice of "controlling" wombats and
it is still known to happen today.
help combat this problem WAO initiated the Wombat Mitigation
Project, a program to help land owners co-exist with wombats
by developing and implementing viable alternatives to wombat
culling. The Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia support
WAO in its work.
Conservation Ark and Zoos SA are also working to save the Southern
Hairy-Nosed Wombat from decline. Wombat Musters, headed by Dr
Elisa Sparrow and Dr David Taggart, are regularly conducted
with the help of eager volunteers. Wombats are captured, tagged,
weighed, and data such as sperm is collected before the animals
are returned back to the wild. Data collected from the musters
help manage populations as well has monitor the impacts of climate
change on the species. Data is also used to help conservation
efforts for the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat.
For the last two years Dr Elisa Sparrow has been running Wombat
Workshops in all the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat inhabited regions
- 8 workshops in total. These workshops were funded by the South
Australian government who want to understand all the wombat
issues, from all sides, statewide.
conserve the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat long term everyone
needs to work together and communicate openly - researchers,
conservation groups, landholders, government - for it to be
and by no means the least, the best looking of the three species
- the Bare-Nosed Wombat.
Bare-Nosed Wombat is classified as common and at no risk. But,
if you ask any wombat conservationist what they think and chances
are they'd say it was the wombat species most in trouble.
Its old name "common wombat" gave the impression that it is
a common animal and numbers are in abundance, which may have
been the case several years ago, but not today. At a Fauna First
Aid wombat care course in southern NSW - which had several members
of the Wombat Protection Society of Australia present - participants
unanimously voted in the new name of Bare-Nosed Wombat and we
urge everybody to use this name and turn away from the inappropriate
"common" name and the connotations is presents.
Bare-Nosed Wombat is facing threats at every level. It's the
Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat story repeated but tenfold - land
clearing, farming and competition with domestic stock, predation,
roadkill and injury, disease and illness, introduction of pest
species and again - human persecution.
protected in NSW, culling permits are easily obtainable - ironically,
it's easier to get a wombat culling permit than a carers permit.
In Victoria there are some parishes where a culling permit isn't
and injury is another big threat. The wombat's greatest sense
is smell and danger is often perceived by smelling predators,
etc. A vehicle has no smell, at least not until it is quite
close, and by that time it's too late, the wombat doesn't react
in time and is hit.
biggest threat in most areas where the Bare-Nosed Wombat can
be found is Sarcoptic Mange.
is thought that the mite that affects wombats - often fatally
- is called Sarcoptes scabiei var wombati; however there have
been no DNA tests to prove this - it may well be the canine
variety of Sarcoptes scabiei that also infests wombats.
irritation caused by the mite burrowing under the skin causes
the wombat to scratch incessantly which in itself causes often
irreparable damage to the skin including mutilation and hair
loss. From the constant scratching, skin layers are taken off
and raw flesh is exposed. The blood serum seeps through the
mites' tunnels to the exposed flesh creating wounds and scabs.
Ulcers and deep lesions develop which then cause secondary infection
and blow fly strike.
visible symptoms of this disease are skin thickening and crusting
over the body, including the eye and ear areas causing blindness
and deafness. The animal becomes too weak to search for food
and malnutrition and dehydration occur. The immune system becomes
depleted and the wombat looks emaciated.
stages Sarcoptic Mange also has a devastating effect on internal
organs, including the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive
organs. Respiratory infections and pneumonia can deplete the
without treatment, a wombat with Sarcoptic Mange will die -
death is slow and painful.
Roz and Kev Holme of Cedar Creek Wombat Rescue (CCWR) at Central
Mangrove (NSW) have been caring for wombats for several years
and have a continual stream of mange affected wombats passing
through their doors. CCWR also carry out treatment regimes on
wildlife living wombats. It seems that mainly females without
joeys are received into care more regularly, as wombats in this
condition don't breed. Sadly, if mange is contracted by a female
with a joey she will often reject it as she can't cope with
the extra burden, so CCWR tend to keep an eye out for abandoned
wombat joeys in the area.
colonies of the Bare-nosed wombat are being lost to this horrible
disease; however an affected wombat can completely recover if
it is treated early. You can help save these animals by reporting
cases to your local wildlife organisation or to your local National
Parks and Wildlife Service office. Record the time and exact
location of the wombat so that it can be found easily by a ranger
or wildlife carer.
Wombat Protection Society of Australia, with the help of its
members, is currently researching Sarcoptic Mange and they believe
this disease can be reversed in many areas of Australia and
that many wombats can be saved.
The Wombat Awareness Organisation is also working on mange mainly
in the Southern hairy-nosed wombat populations of South Australia
and has implemented a conservation project for wombats.
Wombat Protection Society of Australia has designed a "self
applicating" pesticide device that can be installed above a
burrow eliminating the need of handling wild wombats which can
be distressing to the wombat.
Protection will also send out free treatment kits to landowners,
along with tips on how to treat wombats in the wild. Remember
- the quicker you act the more chance a wombat has of survival.
help to save all our wombats!
are contact details of those who are working to protect and
Preservation Society of Australia
PO Box 42
Brighton Le Sands NSW 2216
Tel: (02) 9556 1537
Fax: (02) 9599 0000
GPO Box 2188
Sydney NSW 2001
Creek Wombat Rescue
PO Box 538
Cessnock NSW 2325
Tel: 0429 482 551
of Environment and Heritage Protection
Wombat Survival Fund
PO Box 3130
Red Hill QLD 4701
Protection Society of Australia
PO Box 6045
Quaama NSW 2550
Tel: (02) 6493 8245
PO Box 228
Mannum SA 5238
Tel: 0458 737 283
South Australia Conservation Ark
Dr Elisa Sparrow
Tel: 08 8230 1321
Fax: 08 8267 4289
History Society of South Australia
13 Salerno Circuit
Woodcroft SA 5162