The Wombat Awareness Organisation wants a better life for wombats. We think they are wonderful, unique and important! Rather than blaming the weather, we take a very hands on approach when it comes to their welfare. To every problem, there has been very simple, achievable solutions and despite having a very small team, we get out there and do our job, we save lives. The wombats respond amazingly and teach us so much!
It is our belief that it is not fair for thousands of wombats to starve as we have mismanaged their land, or for them to die out due to an introduced pest (mange) or that they be treated like vermin and killed indiscriminately. So we have developed great projects showing that caring, and a little money can make the world of difference.
The Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat inhabits semi-arid to arid environments almost exclusive to South Australia. These animals inhabit the driest areas, in the driest state in the driest country in the world, they are sensitive to changes in weather patterns. Drought can have a catastrophic effect on wombat populations. Overgrazing from stock, population fragmentation and restrictions on the wombats’ natural movement have greatly changed their natural environment thus leaving the species more susceptible to climatic changes. WAO believes it is not ethical to allow the wombats to suffer and has trialled supplementary feeding with great success to sustain populations until natural relief is available. Although a few white or cream wombats have been seen, uniformly, Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat are silver in colour. This is the best indicator of the health of the wombat. If the environment is lacking, the luxurious shiny, silver coat of the wombat changes to brown, light brown to blonde and even falls out. This is considered to be chronic emaciation or the balding is signatory of a wombat living in a habitat of toxic weeds. Long term, it is the environment that needs improving to save these animals. If and when this ever takes place, there are only two options if the wombat is to be saved:
1. To provide temporary food supplement for the wombats whilst revegetation is undertaken (this can take a few years due to the extreme environment)
2. The wombat needs to be taken to a free range sanctuary such as ours in order to be rehabilitated, gradually assimilated in the free range sanctuary where they can live their lives as wild wombats within a protected environment free from starvation.
Due to the sociality and territoriality of wombats, relocation requires a soft release process which requires the containment of the wombats in a suitable environment (fenced off vacant warrens or airconditioned den with supplementary feeding) for no less than a 12 month period otherwise relocation is completely unsuccessful and only guarantees a prolonged death.
If you have any concerns about a wombat/wombats or wish to know more, please don’t hesitate to contact our
24 Hour Rescue and Advice Hotline on 0458 737 283
Wombats successfully rehabilitated by WAO
Sarcoptic mange is a mite that burrows under the skin causing immense irritation. Make no mistake, this kills wombats and is perhaps one of the largest known killers today to wombats aside from people. The mite is believed to be introduced to Australia via the European Red Fox however there is no doubt in our minds that wombats succumb to mange only when stressed. Their health is a direct indicator of the health of the environment.
In 2010, WAO in conjunction with the Wombat Protection Society of Australia and funded by the Foundation of National Parks and Wildlife expanded on trials undertaken on the Bare-nosed Wombat by utilising plastic self treatment flaps on the entrance of the burrows. Within the flap is a cap filled with an anti-parasitic which allows the wombat to be treated as they leave their burrow. Each wombat is treated and monitored. WAO has successfully eradicated mange from regions and continues to help wombats in mange affected areas.
Sadly, due to the huge and rapid decrease of wombat populations within the core region of the Murraylands, the wombat to burrow ratio makes this method unsafe due to the risk of the wombats being over-treated. Now wombats within these regions that have greater than a minor infestation have to be caught and brought into care.
Mange looks different to toxic emaciation, both have hair loss however with mange you can see scabs that look much like dried mud cracking whereas toxic emaciation, the skin is clean and pink.
Treating wombats with mange causes controversy. Many very experienced carers will treat adult wombats with the initial infestation of mange via a pour on in self treatment flaps. I do question if this works as in our experience, the wombat simply moves to another of their warrens without the self treatment flap or simply disappears only to be replaced by a very sick looking animal several months later. Bringing adult wombats into care has been shunned by many due to the high death rate considered to be due to stress. We here at WAO have not lost a single adult mange wombat due to stress, we have however lost a wombat after one month, when she looked fabulous and one after a year in care due to a condition known as re-feeding syndrome. This syndrome is caused from feeding too rich foods and the shock it places on their starved, frail system. this leads to cardiomyopathy. Wombats in the emaciated condition we receive them in have to be fed a diet of low nutrient and high fibre to prevent re-feeding syndrome. We import a product from the USA called Critical Care for Herbivores made by Oxbow to prevent this.
The way we care for these wombats once rescued to keep them alive is by looking at their basic needs and use of common sense. Wombats have a low body temperature so they need to be kept cool in comfortable materials that allow them to self regulate. People are concerned about the cross contamination of the mites to other animals in care. To combat this, each wombat is gently wrapped in a large, soft doona and nursed whilst gently being covered in a natural 100% safe mix of sulphur in warm olive oil (10:100 oil). This suffocates the mites on contact and provides immediate relief. The wombat is instantly mite free, the painful scabs are loosened and the healing can begin. We repeat this process every three days for four treatments, then once weekly for another two. We no longer use anti-parasitics due to the success of this treatment.
Wombats with mange have been in the fight of their lives for quite some time so they need to rest. They rest a lot. Some wombats we have rescued have only been up for ten minutes per day for up to six weeks after which they begin to build up their strength. There should be no concern that adult wombats are to become too humanised after such intensive handling as their instincts kick straight back in as soon as they smell a burrow. It is entirely dependent on the circumstances of the wombat as to whether or not they can be released after this process. We consider their environment - is it safe, are they at risk of being shot, why did they contract mange in the first place, is food plentiful, are their burrows active? In SA, we have one month to release wombats back into the wild, we support this due to the loss of territory after this period. If the wombat can be healed within the four week period and the environment is safe, we then set up motion sensor cameras post release to monitor their progress.
If you do see a wombat with mange, please understand that left untreated, the wombat will die slowly and painfully.
Please call our 24 Hour Rescue and Advice Hotline - 0458 737 283 We have a network of people to help Australia Wide!
Southern Hairy-nosed Wombats with mange live for no longer than 100 days.
Bare-nosed Wombats can live for up to a year before succumbing to this horrendous disease!
Understanding the Wombat
As human beings, we are the biggest killers of wombats. Destruction permits to kill wombats are issued for nonsensical reasons. So, we set out to understand what the problems were, were they fixable and why did they occur. The only option was to go where no one had gone before - to gain a true understanding of the wombat. This is no easy feat or explanation so - Where do we start? How do you begin to understand an animal that is largely nocturnal, spends most of its life underground and is fiercely independent? Our only answer was to live with those we rescued that had absolutley no chance of survival if released. With a background in zoo's we knew that confinement was no natural indicator of behaviour and although Southerns are considered to be social animals, there weren't any predecessors living with a colony of free range wombats that could give us any information about the introduction of animals to each other or how did they live together? So we did what we had to do - we became wombats! It has taken a decade but we have made it!
What this lifestyle has done is give us an understanding of wombat heirarchy and sociality. Southerns are territorial, they rely entirely on their warrens for survival. They are considered to be a keystone species meaning they are a vital part of the ecosystem, so many other species of protected wildlife are relient on the warren of the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat yet their burrows are not protected, they are killed indiscriminantly and yet everything that we have discovered proves that those killing them are creating their own wombat storm. These are just a few of the things that we have discovered:
People that do cull have large increases in populations where as those that do not cull don't
Wombat colonies are ruled by a strong social heirarchy reined by the dominant male and female
The dominant male keeps other subordinate males away from the females within his colony
The dominant female is the only one allowed to breed within their colony
Once the dominant female is removed there is a period of indescriminant mating after 14 days
It takes up to two months before the new dominant male and female wombat emerge
Juvenile wombats are those that create new warrens
If the social order is kept in tact, the colony will not accept another adult wombat into the colony for 12 months
Wombats have shallow parts within their burrows to keep warm in winter by staying protected whilst the sun warms the shallow earth. If these collapse by either rain or machinery, a digging frenzy occurs and a new major entrance develops
Wombats get angry when their entrances are disturbed which creates more activity around the disturbed entrances
Wombats are creatures of habit
90% of wombats live on private land yet inhabit less than 0.01% of these properties
Warrens are natural funnels into the water table
Germination of grasses is 70% higher where wombats are present
More money is spent by farmers managing wombats than what wombats cost them
In essence of all of these findings comes:
If the social heirachy is constantly destroyed, the breeding rate increases, if the breeding rate increases, more juveniles are present. If more juveniles are present, more burrows are created.
If the colony is left in tact, no new adult wombats are accepted into the colony.
Wombats increase water flow into the water table and germination rates yet take up less than 0.01% of properties therefore increase farming productivity
Trying to control wombats costs far more than leaving them to self regulate
As quoted by Zoologist Ruth Norris 'It is irresponsible to issue destruction permits for an animal we know nothing about or its beneficial role within the environment'
Thanks to our wonderful understanding of wombat beahviour corporate companies are now saying no to wombat culling and yes to coexistence strategies! SA Power Networks, Visionstream, Mid Murray Council and over 80 small business owners have contracted us for assistance. Non lethal co-exitence strategies are far more cost effective and long term than culling which often does not target the resident wombat or understand the linkage between warrens.