Wombats In Trouble

wombat 1Last week, on a late night bus trip outside the Murraylands town of Mannum, I was thrilled to see several Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombats. Here at Pilyara, Common Wombats are thankfully just that – common. But I’d never seen their much rarer western cousins. Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombats (Lasiorhinus latifrons) are one of three species (The Northern Hairy-Nosed being the rarest, and close to extinction). They’re found in scattered areas of semiarid scrub and mallee from the eastern Nullarbor Plain to the New South Wales border. They are the faunal emblem of South Australia, and the smallest of all three wombat species.

wombat 2Currently, Southern Hairy-Nosed wombats are being affected by an unidentified disease outbreak. The most obvious symptoms are hair loss and emaciation. Internally the wombats are anaemic, and in some cases there is liver damage and heart disease. In many parts of their habitat, very few native grasses remain. Instead, the habitat is dominated by onion weed, horehound, and potato weed. It’s suspected that more frequent droughts and an increase in toxic weeds is causing many animals to starve to death.

wombat 3

Brigitte Stevens drove 25 hours to rescue Twinky. Photo Darryn Smitha

Wombats are an Aussie icon, but few people realise all the perils these gorgeous animals face: drought, floods, climate change, loss of habitat, disease, cars and culling – both legal and illegal. It’s not rocket science to see these animals are in trouble but thanks to the Wombat Awareness Organisation (WAO), there is hope!

wombat 4WAO is a wonderful charity established to help save the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat from extinction. Until WAO began in 2007, injured or distressed wombats were ignored or shot. Now WAO’s rescue service is available to every wombat in South Australia. Their rehabilitation centre is the largest wombat facility in the world, with the world’s largest free range wombat enclosure spreading over eleven acres. Wombats are nursed back to health and released into the wild if possible. Those requiring long term care can stay, digging burrows and sleeping in temperature controlled beds, in lush surrounds with ample native food in a supported environment. Donate to help the wombats here!

PS I’m heading off again tomorrow on another research trip up the Murray. This time, it’s a week on a houseboat, leaving from the historic port town of Echuca.


Our New Wombat

We have a new resident here at Pilyara – a hard-working wombat, who is digging a grand new burrow beneath a stump along the drive, just metres from the house.

Bare Nosed Wombats (Vombatus ursinus) are endearing animals that abound here at Pilyara. They emerge at dusk to graze the paddocks, retiring during the day to the safety and comfort of their tunnels. I love wombats. Large and lumbering, they are the world’s biggest herbiverous burrowing mammals. With short legs and tail, rotund bodies and a cuddly appearance, they resemble little bears, but their closest relatives are actually koalas. Wombats are marsupials, but have hollow, rodent-like teeth, that grow in response to wear, and can gnaw through the toughest roots. Like living mini-bulldozers, they can be a problem for farmers when they meet obstacles such as fences. In winter, females produce a single baby which spends its first few months within her rear-facing pouch.

Common WombatWombats face multiple threats. Loss of habitat, dogs, traffic, unsympathetic land owners, and disease. It always saddens me to see a wombat out and about in broad daylight. Mostly these animals are suffering from sarcoptic mange, a nasty condition that causes hair loss, pain, scabby skin, starvation, blindness and ultimately death.

Wombats are also killed by cars, and their corpses are a common sight on local roadsides. Dedicated carers, like Reg and Jenny Mattingly of the Maryknoll Wildlife Shelter, rescue and rear dozens of orphaned baby wombats each year. They also provide burrow flaps to treat mangy wombats with a dose of Cydectin as they enter or leave their dens. Which brings me to our new, resident wombat. It’s nice to know that if he or she contracts mange, we know where the burrow is!