In Australia, the burrowing marsupials known as wombats face a deadly threat: mange. Caused by the parasitic mite, Sarcoptes scabiei, mange results in thick, crusty skin and hair loss. While mange affects many mammal species, the common wombat is particularly susceptible due to their burrowing nature, which provides an ideal environment for mites to thrive and spread.
Historical Impact and Current Challenges
Mange has plagued Australian wombats for over 200 years, believed to have been introduced by Europeans and their domestic animals. Although widespread across Tasmania, monitoring by NRE Tas over the past 35 years indicates that wombat populations have generally remained stable or even increased. However, severe outbreaks can lead to significant local declines, as witnessed in areas like Narawntapu National Park in northern Tasmania.
The Wombat Guy
Enter Toby, affectionately known as “the wombat guy.” For nearly a decade, Toby has been on a mission to save these creatures, one wombat at a time. His approach is hands-on: he chases down the affected wombats, administers antiseptic spray to combat the mites, and then monitors their recovery in the following weeks. This direct intervention is crucial, especially when the infection is severe, as wombats can go blind.
Hope for the Future
One of Toby’s success stories is Wilma, a wombat he treated and cared for. Wilma made a remarkable recovery, her gratitude was evident in her improved health and demeanor. While individual efforts like Toby’s are commendable, the broader challenge remains. Eradicating mange from the wild is currently impossible. Treating individual wombats, especially in the wild, is daunting, given their nocturnal habits and preference for underground habitats. However, the Tasmanian government (NRE Tas) provides valuable support by offering advice on treating mange-affected wombats, monitoring wombat numbers, and researching potential treatment options.
The University of Tasmania is also playing a pivotal role, exploring new treatment methods and seeking to understand the root causes of mange outbreaks.
In the face of this challenge, Toby’s dedication stands out as a beacon of hope. His commitment to saving one wombat at a time underscores the importance of individual action in the broader conservation effort. Through his efforts and the ongoing work of organizations and researchers, there’s hope that these iconic Australian marsupials will thrive for generations.