Volunteer carers, veterinarians and researchers are combining to combat deadly wombat mange.

Story + Photo Kate Newsome  It’s a strange obstacle to hang between a wombat and its home. Zip-tied to a wire frame in the scrubby bushland is the top of an ice-cream punnet, or sometimes a corflute ‘For sale’ sign. A Vegemite lid or medicine cup is glued perpendicular.

Ideally, the targeted wombat will mosey through this homemade burrow flap, causing the lid’s liquid contents to tip over, painting a blue line down its furry back. This pour-on medication will have to be delivered several more times to be effective, via burrow flaps or a ‘pole and scoop’ wielded by wombat warriors working to beat sarcoptic mange.

Introduced to Australia by European colonisers, sarcoptic mange appears in more than 200 mammals worldwide and in humans as scabies. But wombats, who share burrows with foxes and other mange-carrying creatures, are particularly susceptible to infection, or reinfection, by the parasitic mite. They scratch until the skin scabs and swells, and they can no longer hear or see. These secondary infections are often fatal.

As well as impacting southern hairy-nosed wombats, mange is sweeping through bare-nosed wombats, previously known as ‘common’ wombats.

This story excerpt is from Issue #155

Outback Magazine: June/July 2024