$2.8m lifeline to fight disease driving wombats to extinction

Wombats inflicted with the “absolute torture” of sarcoptic mange have been delivered a lifeline with the NSW Government pledging $2.8 million over two years to fight the disease.

Treatment for up to 10,000 diseased wombats, and investment in research will be funded by the program.

Environment Minister James Griffin told Yahoo News Australia the funds will “significantly increase the capacity” of wildlife rescue groups to fight the disease.

“We want to make sure our wombats are protected and supported to survive and thrive into the future, and this budget funding will go a long way to help us achieve that,” Mr Griffin said.

The NSW Government has announced $2.8 million to fight wombat mange. Source: WIRES
The NSW Government has announced $2.8 million to fight wombat mange. Source: WIRES

Animal Justice Party MLC Emma Hurst had campaigned for mange funding and described it as “a major win for animals”.

She believes up to 70 per cent of wombat populations in Australia are already affected, and said the investment comes “not a moment too soon”.

“Historically the NSW Government have failed to act,” she said.

“Mange is a highly contagious, parasitic mite that causes intense itching, scratching and emaciation in wombats, leading to a slow and painful death if untreated.”

WIRES CEO Leanne Taylor said the funding will “go a long way” towards fighting what is a “massive and ongoing challenge”.

“Any funding towards the treatment of mange in wombats is welcomed as this inevitably fatal disease is wreaking havoc with the species," she said.

What is sarcoptic mange and how is it treated?

Mange was spread into wombat populations by foxes, which were introduced from England. Unlike European animals, Australia’s native species have no natural resistance.

The disease is carried by a parasitic mite that burrows under the wombat’s thick skin and starts laying eggs.

Without treatment, wombats face certain death if they are impacted by mange. Source: WIRES
Without treatment wombats face certain death if they are impacted by mange. Source: WIRES

Wildlife rescuer John Creighton said the animals experience an “endless, burning itching”, which causes them to scratch lesions into their skin.

“It just keeps spreading, and they're the perfect host because being nocturnal, they don't get the sun on them which the mites don’t like,” he said.

“Once they get it there’s no turning back, mites aren't just going to back off, and the wombat’s not going to win unless it gets treatment.”

It can be treated using dog flea treatments like Bravecto which kills the mite and allows the wombat to recover.

Wombats face extinction without urgent intervention

Mr Creighton has been on the front line of fighting mange for almost a decade, volunteering his services through an organisation he started on the NSW south coast, Wombat Care Bundanoon.

Speaking with Yahoo News Australia, Mr Creighton warned the disease could see the animals “damn near extinct” in 40 years.

“When I say extinct, I mean they're already extinct in areas where they used to be plentiful,” he said.

“Mange is pushing them back, development and roadkill is pushing them back.

“Some of those things will get worse in time, but with mange, if we fight hard we could stop it.”

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