I was lucky enough to see several Tasmanian wombats (Vombatus ursinus tasmaniensis) during a recent holiday to Cradle Mountain in Tasmania and this was the highlight of the trip because I love to see native wildlife living in their natural environment.
Prior to that the only Wombats I’d seen were at the zoo or roadkill in the Snowy Mountains 🙁
Wombats are Australia’s largest burrowing mammal and close relatives with the koala. With a short tail and legs, characteristic waddle and ‘cuddly’ appearance the wombat is one of the most endearing of Australia’s native animals.
The common wombat was once found throughout southeastern Australia but now, partly as a result of European settlement, is restricted further to the south. It occupies Tasmania, eastern New South Wales and eastern Victoria with scattered populations in southeastern South Australia and southwestern Victoria.
There are three subspecies of common wombat – Vombatus ursinus hirsutus which is found on the mainland, Vombatus ursinus tasmaniensis which is found in Tasmania and Vombatus ursinus ursinus which was once found throughout the Bass Strait islands but is now restricted to Flinders Island.
– Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service
Bleak Future Prospects for Wombats In The Wild?
Human impact on the wombat population is now at a critical level. Wombats suffer from a disease called mange that was introduced to Australia and to wombats by human activity. Mites that cause mange lead to deep skin fissures that become flyblown and septic. This leads to a long, slow and painful death for wombats. In addition they are also being affected by a fungal lung disease for which there is currently no cure.
Diseases and viruses brought in by farming activity now affect wombats. Incidents of coccidia, clostridium perfringens and tetanus amongst others are evident in wombats. Some people believe that the distribution of mange is so widespread that only isolated populations and those tended in sanctuaries will, in the long term survive.
It is only recently that Veterinarians have begun to receive training in dealing with native animal health. Behavioural studies on wombats are few and limited in their scope. As a result wombats are misunderstood and those attempting to rear and rehabilitate injured and orphaned wombats have difficulty getting them appropriate medical attention and in helping others understand the best ways of living with wombats.
Habitat destruction is having a major impact on wombat numbers as well. Water sources and grazing areas being fenced into farms and out of public lands limits the suitable range for wombats to a small strip of land. Although Australia is a big country there are few areas where wombats can live undisturbed. They are restricted to a small section of the east coast of Australia.
Unless they are fully protected their limited distribution will reduce further. This is already evident in the northern Hairy Nose Wombat whose numbers are so low that the species is severely threatened and without human intervention will become extinct.