Our wombat warriors

CLOSE BOND: Tucker growing back his coat during his recovery from severe mange. Picture: Debbie Eveson.

CLOSE BOND: Tucker growing back his coat during his recovery from severe mange. Picture: Debbie Eveson.

When Tucker was brought into Wombat 4 Rescue, the emaciated wombat weighed just 600 grams and was ravaged by mange. 

The parasitic disease encrusted his exterior, and he was barely recognisable compared to the healthy wombat he is today. 

Wombat 4 Rescue operator Debbie Eveson, of Birralee, has raised and rehabilitated about 36 wombats, including Tucker, over the last 11 years. 

Tucker, now 19-months-old, has reached about 14 kilograms and has almost fully recovered from his battle with mange. 

He was surrendered to Ms Eveson after he was found outside of a burrow. 

MANGE: When Tucker arrived at Wombat 4 Rescued, he weight 600 grams and was severely impacted by mange.

MANGE: When Tucker arrived at Wombat 4 Rescued, he weight 600 grams and was severely impacted by mange.

Passionate wombat-lovers are crusading for the mammals' health due to their ongoing battle with the fatal disease around Tasmania.

Tasmanian Wildlife Rehabilitation Council president and Wombat Protection Society Australia state president Oma Rodger said mange is reaching epidemic levels among Tasmania's wombat population. 

"I do think this is developing to the point that if we don't do something in the next five years to try and minimise this impact we will possibly lose our wombats," Ms Rodger said. 

Mange causes wombats to lose their fur, dehydrate and find reaching nutritional quotas increasingly difficult.

PROTECTION: The ice-cream lid flap method, developed by the Wombat Protection Society of Australia, is saving wombats. Picture: Supplied

PROTECTION: The ice-cream lid flap method, developed by the Wombat Protection Society of Australia, is saving wombats. Picture: Supplied

Resultantly, their immune systems suffer, fatally if mange is left untreated. 

"It's a long-suffering, cruel, agonising death," Ms Rodger said.  

Through the TWRC, the Wombat Protection Society disseminated information to the public about treating mange. 

A recent citizen science education day at Kelso aimed to educate locals on how to treat mange.

Attendees left with a treatment kit and committed to collecting data and documenting wombats' recoveries.

"It's not a quick fix, and it will need sustained local effort, but the citizen science project was embraced by Kelso and Greens Beach,” Ms Rodger said.

“We really want to see this take off in other areas," she said. 

The Wombat Protection Society of Australia developed a simple method citizens could implement using an ice-cream box lid and a treatment provided by the TWRC. 

The method is considered convenient as it involves no need to handle the wombat, requires no skill in animal management and the flaps can be installed by inexperienced people. 

The method entails locating a burrow for treatment – burrows can be obvious, or tracks or scats may need to be found to located.

Due to the dehydration mange causes, infected wombats with mange often reside near a water source. 

The burrow flap is installed and when the wombat enters or leaves it homes the treatment, which is attached to the flap, will trickle onto the wombat’s back. 

Ms Rodger said the Kelso area's wombats had been hard hit by mange and adversely affected by floods, which resulted in displacement and a hypothermia outbreak.

"Wombats...have crashed in this area, evidenced by the unused, inactive burrows that are in all the area," Ms Rodger said.

“Their burrows become flooded and they were dying of hypothermia, so it really was something which needed action straight away," she said.  

"Wombats breed only every three years so a replacement for the numbers that are dying isn't occurring, really.

"If we're not careful we will lose our bare nosed wombats in Tasmania, and on the mainland as well." 

After the citizen science day, farmers, who often have abundant wombats on their properties, also committed to treating the mammals themselves. 

Data collected by attendees, and progress photographs and recovery documentation, would be passed back on the the society and the University of Tasmania. 

Mange infestations also impact rehabilitation and release.

The disease complicates releasing joeys collected from mothers killed by cars into the wild.

While issues including also pests sabotaging burrows and road kill impacted wombats, mange was Ms Rodger’s dominant concern. 

“Over the last five years, mange and managing that has become the preeminent focus for the Wombat Protection Society," Ms Rodger said.  

Ms Eveson agreed that mange was ubiquitous among the state’s wombat population. 

"It's extremely common, it's absolutely every where, there doesn't seem to be anywhere where wombats don't seem to have mange," Ms Eveson said. 

In 2015, UTAS researchers said more than half of Narawntapu National Park’s wombats had been wiped out by mange. 

The disease can be found in other mammals and dogs, and also can be transferred to humans.

Ms Rodger said she believed wombats were particularly susceptible to being infected. 

After the “extremely well attended” citizen science day at Kelso and Greens Beach, Ms Rodger said she hoped more Tasmanians would be interested in treating wombats. 

Ms Rodger encouraged Tasmanians with an interest in assisting in mange management to contact the Tasmanian Wildlife Rehabilitation Council to learn more.

The Tasmanian Wildlife Rehabilitation Council can be contacted on twrc@taswildlife.org for information about mange treatment. 

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