Wildlife rescuer's grim warning to check pouches of wombat roadkill

A wildlife rescuer has warned we need to do more to protect bare-nosed wombats or we could lose them for good.

Yolandi Vermaak is a volunteer for NSW-based Sleepy Burrows, which is dedicated to helping sick and injured wombats, and also runs the Wombat Rescue Facebook page.

After encountering dead bare-nosed wombats on a road on Sunday, she wrote the species “will reach endangered stage earlier than we thought”.

Ms Vermaak included pictures of wombats laying on the road after being hit by cars. The photos also included a dead joey. She wrote: “The numbers being killed are not sustainable”.

“I’ve covered more than 14,000 kilometres in the past six months helping nearly 100 wombats,” she told Yahoo7.

“More than 90 of them died. People are just careless. They run into them at night and don’t save the joeys who end up freezing to death.”

NSW wombat rescuer Yolandi Vermaak says we need to do more to protect wombats after encountering several dead wombats and their joeys. Source: Facebook/ Wombat Rescue

Ms Vermaak said there was a perception there were a lot of wombats. The northern hairy nosed-wombat and the southern hairy-nosed wombat are both endangered.

Not much is known about the bare-nosed wombat’s population.

“The problem is people shoot them, because they think they’re pests, or hit them with cars,” she said.

“The others are killed by mange disease.”

It’s illegal to shoot or relocate wombats in NSW.

Donna Stepan, who runs Sleepy Burrows, was reduced to tears when she said she was currently treating up to 60 a day.

“People just aren’t getting the severity of what we’re dealing with here,” she said.

“We’ve been trying for a decade to get people to understand. I’m so stressed because no one will listen.”

The joeys are said to freeze to death if their parents die. Source: Facebook/ Wombat Rescue

She added Ms Vermaak’s picture was an example of issues facing the species in winter. The mother dies while the joey inside her pouch eventually freezes to death.

“They are left to rot,” she said.

“I often collapse in tears but have to get back to my feet. It’s unbelievable people leave them to die.”

Bruce Englefield of the University of Sydney’s school of veterinary science said bare-nosed wombats could face endangerment but laid it down to four factors: mange virus, road toll, the destruction of habitat and shootings.

He said 137 wombats were shot by landowners in NSW in 2015.

Mr Englefield said it was not known how many wombats currently had mange virus but he compared it to devil facial tumour disease which affects Tasmanian devils. That illness saw the population drop by up to 80 per cent since being first detected in 1996.

There are concerns too many wombats are being killed by cars. Source: Facebook/ Wombat Rescue

He said the virus was 90 per cent of the problem in killing Tasmanian devils and people realised the other 10 per cent was due to cars.

Mr Englefield added “no one worried” at the time but once people were cautioned about the species dying they changed what they were doing.

“If the four factors aren’t managed, we could definitely see the species becoming endangered,” he said.

“We’ve got to try better road kill mitigation methods. We’ve tried to change human behaviour with signage but it doesn’t seem to be working.

“We can’t blame animals for being on the road.”

University of Sydney Professor of ecology Christopher Dickman said it’s too early to say whether the species is facing endangerment due to a lack of knowledge about bared-nosed wombats.

However, he said in 25-40 years, if research and sustainable methods aren’t undertaken, the species could be on a “slippery slope”.

“We need to recognise there are huge changes to the environment and need to set up monitoring in key areas,” Professor Dickman said.

“Very few sites do that in the country.”