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Zombie Wombats And Where To Find Them

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

Rotting corpses are rising from the ground and wandering aimlessly about the Australian countryside, fuelled by an insatiable desire to consume. You’d think this was the plot to a B-grade science fiction novel. It’s not.

A zombie wombat with mange in Tasmania. (Sourced from DPIPWE Tasmania)

Copyright: K. Simpson | Source: DPIPWE Tasmania

We’re all vaguely familiar with wombats. They’re stocky, fluffy, and they eat grass or something, right? They live out there, you know, in ‘the bush’ somewhere. Most of us have never actually seen one except in the zoo. In fact, you could spend all your days searching ‘the bush’ without ever finding one, because wombats are mostly nocturnal, and tend to venture out while we’re tucking ourselves in for the night. But that’s starting to change.

This is Titan. He is one of many wombats living with mange. Titan is too itchy to sleep, and too drained to stop eating during the day. If left untreated, he will itch himself to death.

Photo copyright Boorne Wild.

Titan used to be a normal wombat. He would spend a few hours a night eating a delicious assortment of grasses and roots, and would spend the rest of his time snoozing in a burrow deep underground. Now he’s a zombie wombat. His skin is cracked and bleeding, and he lives in a perpetual state of hunger and pain. His eyes and ears are almost sealed shut from scabbing, and he’s always tired.

Imagine being blind and deaf and having to try and find your way around town - but instead of paved roads it’s ants nests, and instead of houses it’s ants nests, and everything is ants nests. When you’re a wombat with mange, life is short. And itchy.

Wombat ranges have decreased drastically over the past 200 years. (From WPSA)

Where to find them. Wombat ranges have decreased drastically over the past 200 years.

Mange, habitat loss, and roadkill are all contributing to wombat population decline. Of the three species of wombat, only the bare-nosed and the southern hairy-nosed are affected by mange. Meanwhile, the northern hairy-nosed is one of the rarest mammals in the world - and mange reaching their populations would have catastrophic consequences.

Wombats are known as ‘ecological engineers’ because they dig burrows that a variety of species can live in, and improve soil aeration and health. Soil is the foundation for our forests and grasslands - it’s also one of our largest carbon sinks other than the ocean. [1] The Australia we see today has been shaped by digging mammals such as wombats. But they are rapidly disappearing from their former range. [2]

Tasmania’s Narwantapu National park lost 90% of its wombats to mange. [3] Anecdotally, similar population declines have been occurring all along Australia’s east coast, but we don’t know the exact numbers yet. So while we can’t say that wombats will go extinct - we can’t be certain that they won’t either. There simply isn’t enough research out there yet. At the very least, this is an animal welfare issue.

What can we do?

It’s hard to imagine how this wombat apocalypse could be happening right under our noses. It’s bizarre, isn’t it? But what’s more bizarre is that there is a cure. Except unlike your favourite zombie movie, it isn’t locked up in a top secret research facility. You can get it on eBay. And if you’re a pet owner, it might be sitting in your cupboard already.

Bravecto Spot-On for dogs and Cydectin cattle drench are both ‘cures’ for mange. [4] They kill the parasites living under the skin of a wombat, and can protect a wombat from being re-infested with regular dosing. These treatments give sick wombats like Titan a second chance.

Why do you need to know this?

Because most wombats live on private land, not national parks. So until there’s government action on the issue, it’s up to landholders to step in for our Aussie mates doing it tough. If you’re interested in helping, get in touch with a group treating mange in your local area. You can also set up a treatment program on your property - it’s easier than you might think.

Treatment is poured onto the wombats back when it passes under this burrow flap

Treatment is poured onto the wombats back when it passes under this burrow flap.

Copyright: A. Martin | Source: DPIPWE Tasmania

If you’re not a landholder, there are plenty of options to donate to wombat treatment groups. Even if you can’t afford to give cash - they accept ice cream container lids and bottle caps as donations too.

Together we can stop the spread of mange, and return zombie wombats to the world of B-grade science fiction.


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