Does the Northern hairy-nosed wombat have a future?

Some of Australia’s most experienced and knowledgeable wombat experts and carers attended the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s recent wombat conference in Penrith.

Sadly, one of the dominating conversations was the fact that the Northern hairy-nosed wombat is perilously close to extinction. The world' largest herbivorous burrowing mamal and the largest of the three wombat species, can measure up to a metre long, with a distinctive wide nose, which makes them look a bit like dugongs on land!

It is Queensland’s most endangered mammal, listed as critically-endangered on the IUCN Red List and as endangered nationally under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act of 1999.

These elusive nocturnal creatures have only ever been recorded in three locations across the eastern states. Most of the animals live in Epping Forest, and in a move to safe guard the species, in 1971 the area was protected.

By 1983 there were only 35 wombats left on the planet – a worrying number – and drastic action was taken to protect these remaining animals including fencing the park to exclude dingoes. Numbers grew steadily to 115 in 2005 and in 2009, 15 animals were translocated to a second site in Richard Underwood Nature Refuge.

READ: Open letter to Australian threatened species commissioner: Not “patriotic” to keep koalas, kangaroos and wombats as pets

The refuge currently has 10 wombats - eight females and two males. One very virulent male was recently translocated from Epping after the previous dominant male died in 2012. The new male, affectionately named M131, is taking his role of increasing the population very seriously, having been recorded visiting up to nine burrows in just one night!

These locations could possibly reach carrying capacities by 2020. Epping is thought to have a carrying capacity of 300-400 individuals and the refuge is thought to only be able to sustain between 20 and 35 individuals. Added to that the worry that a single catastrophic event such as a bushfire or flood could potentially wipe out the entire population, there is an urgent need to search for a third site to safeguard the population from extinction.

But where to look? These creatures need a particular type of soil - part clay /part sand to allow for burrowing and a diverse range of grasses to feed on. The location ideally needs to be in their historic range, west of the Great Dividing Range and the search may need to extend into New South Wales if a suitable site can’t be found in Queensland.

The future of this iconic creature depends on the actions we take today to preserve our natural fauna.

 --JS 

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Dr. Joseph Okori
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