Wombats living with sarcoptic mange in Kangaroo Valley respond well to treatment

As darkness descends, Scott Carver grabs his spotlight and goes looking for bald spots.

Hair loss caused by sarcoptic mange – introduced to Australia by animals owned by European settlers – is a telltale sign of disease in wombats.

“We have records of it in wombats going back 100 years, so it’s been prevalent in wombat populations for a long time,” Dr. Carver said.

“We’re not at a stage where we can eradicate it from their populations, but we can manage it in some cases.”

Scabies is a skin infection caused by parasitic mites and has affected several native species. This can lead to aggressive scratching, weight loss, and in severe cases, death.

Scott Carver has been studying wombat housing and health for a decade.(ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)

Wombats are plentiful in Bendeela Recreation Area, northwest of Nowra, and have been under assessment for two years.

A treatment project there uses a hands-off approach to animal welfare – that means finding and observing nocturnal creatures that start emerging from their burrows around 4 p.m. each day.

“I basically walk the length of the campground, counting the wombats and checking how healthy they look,” said Dr. Carver, lecturer in wildlife ecology at the University of Tasmania.

Using a scoring system to record the severity of each sick animal, researchers like Dr. Carver then deliver on-the-spot treatment similar to applying tick serum to a pet.

Treatments last between 30 and 90 days and their effectiveness depends on the severity of the disease in the wombat.

A wombat with mange
Sarcoptic mange is a disease introduced from Europe.(Provided: Scott Carver)

WaterNSW’s Tony Webber, who is working on the project with the universities of Sydney and Tasmania, said he hoped the treatment would be an effective remedy for what was a distressing problem for the wombat population.

Mangy wombats were now harder to spot, confirming field and study findings, he said.

“It was actually less than our working estimate, probably less than 5% of the population, or less than a dozen animals out of the 200-250 wombats that are currently in Bendeela.

“We administer the treatment substance to individual animals without the need to capture them.”

A mother and baby wombat on the putting green.
These wombats are part of the scabies treatment program.(Provided: WaterNSW)

By minimizing human interaction, the researchers reduce stress on everyone, especially the wombat, and only target animals showing symptoms of mange.

“The community is seeing these animals, even though they are relatively few in number, suffering from this condition and it’s quite distressing for them, so to have reached this stage is definitely very good news,” Webber said.

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