with much of our wonderful wildlife, the Southern Hairy-Nosed
Wombat is in trouble.
threats include roadkill and injury, predator attack, habitat
loss and urban development, burrow destruction and the debilitating
infestation, Sarcoptic 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.
biggest threat to the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat is us. Humans.
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.
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.
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…
June I had the pleasure of visiting Brigitte Stevens and Frank
Mikula of the Wombat Awareness Organisation (WAO) in South Australia.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
save a species...
needs help. Purchasing such a large parcel of land of course
costs big money and donations are always welcome.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
will you help to save the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat?
story was written for the Wildife Preservation
Society of Australia's
"Australian Wildlife" Magazine.
Spring issue Vol: 4 / 2010