A TEAM of six volunteers working to save wombats in northern Tasmania from a ravaging mange outbreak claim wombat populations are being wiped out across the region due to a lack of support.
Wombat Rescue Tasmania claims the outbreak is threatening numbers in the same way Tasmanian devil numbers were harmed by facial tumours, and the response needs to be as great.
Volunteers are usually told of affected wombats in the West Tamar and around Launceston, but Wombat Rescue Tasmania president Bea Mayne feared a lack of reports meant the wombats had effectively been wiped out in the area.
“I’ve been doing this 3.5 years, my phone used to ring hot all day every day. The last 12 months, it’s been going down slowly and in last six months, virtually stopped,” she said.
“They’ve almost all died out. They scratch themselves to death.”
The group recently responded to affected wombats at Longford and Evandale, and has been setting medication-administering devices on burrows at Kelso, but have struggled to find any wombats in that area.
The devices are made out of ice cream lids and bottle caps, and act as a doggy-door on the burrow for when the wombat returns and inadvertently flips the cap of medication onto its own back.
The condition is caused by scabie mites carried by dogs and livestock, and was introduced to Tasmania during colonisation.
It takes about three months before it can become fatal, and the medication needs to be administered every week for 12 weeks. The condition becomes particularly acute in the summer.
The Tasmanian government provided $100,000 last year for monitoring, research and financial support for groups to treat mange-affected wombats, but Ms Mayne says the funding has run out and Wombat Rescue Tasmania only received $3000, while the majority went to groups counting wombats using “mostly backpacker volunteers”.
Ms Mayne said more volunteers were “desperately” needed to help place devices over burrows and administer the medication weekly.
VIDEO: A wombat with mange is found near Launceston:
She said spotlight research – when counts were taken at night – was not an accurate way of monitoring wombat numbers, and funding was needed for video surveillance.
“You can’t tell from a car spotlighting if they have mange or not,” Ms Mayne said.
“You can have a mangy wombat that might look healthy, but it’s not until you touch its fur that you notice the mange underneath.”
A government spokesperson said wombat numbers had increased in Tasmania since 1985, but acknowledged there was an issue with mange in northern areas.
“The government recognises that mange is affecting wombats in the West Tamar area in particular, and we are supporting further monitoring, research and community action to address the issue,” she said.
“Tasmania’s state-wide wombat population is not endangered. In fact, long term data from DPIPWE’s annual spotlight survey has shown that wombat populations are not declining at a state-wide level, and in fact state-wide numbers have generally increased between 1985 and now.”
If you spot a wombat with mange, contact Wombat Rescue Tasmania on 0419 585 001 to have a burrow device sent out.