Andrew Brown

Wombat rescues in Canberra surge due to flooding and rampant mange | The Canberra Times

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Recent flooding and a rampant epidemic of mange has led to a near record number of wombat rescues in the Canberra area, according to a wildlife advocate. Wombat Rescue manager Yolandi Vermaak said call outs to help save the marsupial have been on the rise in recent months with at least one having to be rescued every day. Large flooding incidents that hit the area in August forced many wombats to become displaced, often seeking shelter in urban areas and getting injured near major roads as a result. “When a wombat is displaced, they’re extremely territorial. It’s not like they can get in another burrow, because it’s protected by its owner and they will fight,” Ms Vermaak said. “If their burrow is flooded, they look for another place to live, and if they can’t find one, they go into suburbia because they’re desperate to find somewhere to live.” In the four years Ms Vermaak has been running Wombat Rescue, she said this year has been her busiest. “More wombats perish in floods than bushfires,” she said. “Most of the call outs have been around the Queanbeyan River or around suburbs like Gordon and Conder.” The more alarming situation, according to Ms Vermaak, has been the sheer number of wombats found in Canberra bushland that have been riddled with mange. Mange has been spreading among Canberra’s wombat population due to the mites that cause the disease living in many wombat burrows. While the mites typically die within a day if they live above ground, soil conditions mean it can survive for up to three weeks without a host. “We are reaching a critical stage because every area that I get a call out to has mange already present, and it is terminal in wombats if there is no intervention,” Ms Vermaak said. “If we leave this as it is, we are going to reach a population of zero in a few years.” Mange has been most common among wombats living along the Murrumbidgee Corridor, which includes bushland areas near Kambah Pool, Pine Island. Treatment of the disease, however, is difficult. “Treatment of mange takes at least four months and you have to keep treating the wombat, it’s not a one-dose wonder,” Ms Vermaak said. “You have to find the burrow with the wombats that are sick, but they change their behaviour after a few doses.” The Wombat Rescue has already set up a treatment program at nature reserves near Googong, which involves placing burrow flaps made out of ice-cream lids over the entrance to the burrow, which dispenses mange medicine when a wombat leaves the burrow. Ms Vermaak said she was aiming to expand the treatment program into the ACT, including areas along the Murrumbidgee Corridor. Fundraising efforts are already under way for the potential expansion. “The biggest challenge is getting permission from the ACT government to get access to these areas, as most of them are in conservation areas,” Ms Vermaak said. “We’re submitting project proposals to get permission, and we’re hoping that will happen soon. “We need to do something soon, otherwise there won’t be many wombats left.”

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