A new partnership between the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) and Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) will help protect one of Australia’s rarest mammals, the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat. The partnership will bolster efforts to safeguard the species from extinction by contributing to agreed recovery actions.
With a total of around 315 individuals remaining, the northern hairy-nosed wombat is rarer than the Giant Panda and the Sumatran Tiger. The last natural stronghold for the species is at Epping Forest National Park in central Queensland, while a second population was established by DES in 2009 at the 130-hectare Richard Underwood Nature Refuge near St George in the south-west of the state. With numbers now steadily climbing at both locations, burrow real estate is in hot demand and the wombats may soon start running out of space.
The agreement announced today will see the non-profit AWC take on some research and management responsibilities. They will also provide strategic advice by joining the species recovery team and will work with DES to scope out new projects for establishing further wombat populations.
Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said this partnership will assist the department in its efforts to increase the population of this critically endangered mammal.
“Recently, we saw a population milestone reached with northern hairy-nosed wombat numbers exceeding more than 300, giving conservationists cause for cautious celebrations,” Minister Scanlon said.
“I look forward to seeing more exciting news develop in this space.”
DES Senior Conservation Officer, Dr Alan Horsup has been leading conservation efforts for the species over the past 30 years and said the hard work in the field had paid off.
“The northern hairy-nosed wombat needs all the help it can get. The species was close to extinction in the early 1980s, with numbers as low as 35 in one last population at Epping Forest National Park,” Dr Horsup said. “Major threats to the species are loss of habitat, predation from wild dogs, disease and climate change. The species’ recovery was initially slow but is now picking up pace with the Epping Forest population now estimated at 300 wombats, and a further 15 at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge. The partnership with AWC is very welcome.”
AWC Chief Science Officer, Dr John Kanowski said it was a privilege for AWC to be given an opportunity help conserve the species.
“Australian Wildlife Conservancy is thrilled to step up to help conserve the northern hairy-nosed wombat. We have decades of experience working with many of Australia’s most threatened mammal species; like Numbats, Woylies, and Bridled Nailtail Wallabies; and these wombats are even rarer still. Building on the excellent work that has been carried out by DES to date, it’s critical that we keep the population numbers heading in the right direction and work to establish some new sites in the next few years. We believe collaboration and partnership is key to success in conservation.”
A metre long and weighing up to 30 kilograms, northern hairy-nosed wombats are the world’s largest burrowing marsupials. One mapped burrow system included over 90 metres of tunnel and six entrances. They have a distinctive appearance with a broad nose, pointy ears, soft greyish fur and faint black eye patches. They can live to at least 30 years of age, spending most of their time underground and emerging at night to feed on grasses and sedges. ‘Yaminon,’ is the only recorded Indigenous name for these wombats, from an area near St George.
Australia has three species of wombats: the common wombat (Vombatus ursinus) which occurs from southern Queensland, throughout eastern NSW to Victoria and in Tasmania; the southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons) found in semi-arid country from the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia and through parts of South Australia; and the northern hairy-nosed wombat. At the time of European colonisation, the northern species was recorded from near Clermont to around St George in the Brigalow Belt of central and southern Queensland, with a separate population in the NSW Riverina.
The decline of the northern hairy-nosed wombat has been driven by clearing of their preferred open eucalypt woodland habitat for grazing and competition with livestock and rabbits. They were also directly persecuted as a pest; in 1884, more than a thousand were shot on a single property in the Riverina. Dingos and wild dogs pose a further threat and both populations are now protected by dog-proof fences. The survival of this species into the future is entirely reliant on ongoing conservation management.