A wombat and her joey

Unique and unseen, wombats are one of Australia’s most incredible species. Wombats are strong diggers and create burrows that they use to live in underground. Wombats spend most of their time in their burrows and emerge to feed on native grasses. When they emerge, wombats appear to be slow, stocky animals, but wombats can run at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour! Australia is home to three species of wombats: bare-nosed wombat, northern hairy-nosed, and southern hairy-nosed wombat. The bare-nosed wombat lives in coastal and mountainous regions in south-eastern Australia, whereas the hairy-nosed wombats prefer drier landscapes. The northern hairy-nosed wombat is one of the rarest land mammals in the world. They are listed as critically endangered and can now only be found in one place – the Epping Forest National Park in Queensland. Wombats face many threats from human persecution, habitat loss, road fatalities, and mange, caused by an infestation of mites.

Mange is an infestation caused by a parasitic mite, which burrows into a wombat’s skin, causing crusty skin, hair loss, blindness, and prolonged death. Unfortunately, wombat burrows present the ideal conditions for these mites to thrive, and because wombats spend so much time in their burrows, they are one of the species most impacted by Mange. Mange is the biggest threat to the Bare-nosed wombat and is causing serious declines in wombat populations.

Katja and Nick completing a survey of wombats burrows

Katja Gutwein is a wildlife carer and has been trained to care for and rehabilitate animals such as wombats, possums, and birds. In 2011, Katja attended a workshop about wombats, which is where she first heard about Mange. At the time, there was no real cure or treatment for Mange, and that inspired her to take action. She joined a local conservation NGO called Mange Management which she now runs with fellow Wombat Warrior Nick Bean.

Mange Management is a community-based group at the forefront of fostering coexistence with wombats. Since 2012 it has empowered local communities to take action to reduce threats to wombats through education, outreach, and support. Mange Management has trained and mobilized over 500 volunteers, 2000 landholders and wildlife care groups, scientists, and government agencies to research and deliver medication to wombats non-invasively in their natural habitat. The organization provides 450 free mange treatment kits a year to community members to treat sick wombats. The kit contains medication, instructions, and equipment to easily set up a self-medication system via a flap placed in front of a burrow. The burrow flap is assembled from an ice cream container lid with a hole cut and a medicine cup inserted in the hole that is suspended from a simple wireframe positioned in front of the burrow. A dose of medication is placed in the medicine cup and as the wombat enters or leaves the burrow the flap tilts and the medication Cydectin® trickles onto the wombat’s back.  The Burrow Flap is an easy way to treat wombats with mange as the flaps can be placed and monitored during daylight hours without disturbing wild wombats, which much prefer their privacy.

Example of a burrow flap

Installing these flaps, and making them available to the public, is a key focus of Mange Management. They have over 50 pickup locations across Victoria, where volunteers are able to pick up a treatment kit where they are provided the resources and information on how to set up a flap. They also educate people about the need to be careful of wombats when driving in areas that wombats live in to prevent road deaths and that wombats are wild animals and not pets.

Louise and Katja working together in the field

Another key focus of Mange Management is human-wombat coexistence. They lobby the government to increase protections for wombats.  Currently, the Victorian government issues 3,000-4,000 kill permits a year to landholders to kill healthy wombats due to perceived threats to livestock from wombats. Katja says, “Farmers worry about horses breaking their legs in burrows.”  Yet there is no evidence for this. As a result, Katja and her organization advocate for the protection of the wombats, stressing the benefits they bring to farmers. Wombats as “ecosystem engineers “ because of their incredible ability to dig,  wombats provide habitat for other species but also helps spread nutrients and water through the soil aiding tree growth. As Katja notes “They play a really important role in the environment.”

Louise Boronyak, the International Project Liaison at IWCN, first met Katja in 2016 after hearing about the threats wombats face in Australia and reached out to Mange Management. In 2018, she wrote a grant with funding provided to Mange Management for their program. Louise spent time in the field with Katja and Nick, mapping out wombat burrows.


Mange Management is always looking for volunteers and donations. Visit their page today to learn more. www.mangemanagement.org.au

Like them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mangemanagement








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