After I assessed her I knew I could not save her. She had severe mange, infections in her eyes and skin and was shaking uncontrollably. She was euthanised to end her suffering.
When I’m in the field, doing mange treatment, strangers would regularly come up to me and ask what I’m doing. I love questions like this and always talk about what we do and why.
My main concern with these conversations usually is that the person either doesn’t know what mange is, or knows but didn’t know it affects wombats, or knows but didn’t know that they die from mange in the most horrific way.
What is needed is education and awareness on a national scale, to such an extent that mange affected wombats become as known to people as the Tasmanian Devil and their facial tumours.
But it’s treatable right? Correct, but treating a wild wombat is not as easy as it sounds. And it is important for those who want to attempt to treat a wild wombat, to know what they are in for. If not, and they give up halfway because it’s in the “too hard basket”, the only result would be that the wombat’s suffering has been prolonged.
There are a couple of factors that play a role in mange treatment:
FACILITIES: Mange can be treated if the animal is quarantined. But very few people have the facilities to have separate quarantine areas (it’s highly contagious so if you have healthy wombats in care you don’t want to risk having them exposed).
The good thing if you can get a wombat into care is that you can properly assess the advancement of its mange and secondary infections. I have seen a wombat looking ok but it was already dying as you couldn’t see the underside where it was already ravaged by mange and secondary infections. But trapping an adult wombat will cause stress. Wombats are very vulnerable to stress and can easily die from it. And you always have the risk of leaving a joey in the burrow behind. Are you willing to go back for it? How will you know? How will you handle this?
Other than that, even if people can take in one or two, it does not address the widespread issue of THOUSANDS of wombats across ACT, NSW, VIC, SA and TAS suffering of mange. Treating a few will not eradicate mange. A holistic nationwide approach is all that will have a true effect. Only the Australian Government is able to implement this.
GOVERNMENT: Why don’t they step in? The problem is already out of control and too big to manage. But it’s just getting bigger. Are they going to wait until 36 wombats are left like with the Northern Hairy Nosed wombat before they step in? Or wait until extinction like the Tasmanian Tiger?
The only way to eradicate mange is to have a national strategy. Effective fox control (which goes with rabbit control) and treating the environment in its totality. I think that would be a project running into millions of dollars. Would our Government be prepared to give that kind of money?
I just don’t see the passion and caring for wombats that would be necessary for politicians to actually take note of this crisis and start to implement change.
FIELD TREATMENT: So we all do little bits and trying to save pockets of wombats or individual wombats. And that is good, but only if you can treat successfully and stay committed. But mange will come back again and again and re-infection will most likely occur if it’s not treated nationwide.
Wombats can travel in its territory of up to 25ha. It would be very unlikely to find all its burrows. But lets say you could. You found a couple of burrows and are sure that is where the wombat resides (you have to spend time around the burrows to see which ones are active).
If mange has advanced enough that the animal is quite sick already and most likely out during daylight hours, you will be able to apply treatment directly onto its neck by creeping up on it. But if not, or after a few treatments and it starts to feel better, you wont be able to do this any more.
And remember, treatments have to be weekly for at least the 1st 8 weeks, then fortnightly for 8 fortnights, then they will be re-assessed. So now you have to treat the burrow.
The burrow-flap method is quite popular but does not come without challenges. You need to compensate for spillage and take into consideration that it could be a fox. You need to be very committed to staying with your treatment plan. If you start, but can’t continue, you have just extended its inevitable death. With obtaining permission to administer treatment, the law is very murky here. In NSW even landowners are not allowed to treat the animals for mange without a permit. But that aside… If the wombat is mange free after a couple of months, you are NOT in the clear yet. The following bit is where it all goes wrong
ENVIRONMENT: Before you even start treatment, you need to assess the environment. Anecdotally, mange is more prevalent in animals that have a compromised immune system or are stressed. Look at the water and food sources. Are there foxes? Are there males fighting for territory? Too many males in a territory will cause huge stress for the weaker males and the females.
Treating the environment: If you do a population treatment only, it will most likely fail. Succeed at first but mange will come back eventually. Why? The environment was not treated as well. You can’t just focus on the wombats alone. The whole environment needs to be treated. First and foremost is effective fox control. Treating of burrows. Treating continuously until the environment is free of mange.
Getting rid of stress factors which isn’t always possible (like drought). But what if mange is then carried from a neighbouring area after 2 years by a roaming wombat or fox? This is what we are up against. Without all areas doing this together, there is no hope of eradicating mange. People don’t understand mange and think if they see a mildly manged wombat that it will come right. It won’t. If you don’t or can’t treat it, have it euthanised.
That is honestly the kindest thing you can do. There is no way a wombat with mange will survive unless it receives effective continuous treatment. Mange treatment of wombats in the wild takes incredible determination, coordination, perseverance, patience, and funding.
What will happen to a manged wombat?
You see a manged wombat somewhere in the field or next to a road...
- You phone a Wildlife group or Ranger for the wombat to be euthanised
- You phone a Wildlife group to catch the wombat and take it into care (this almost never happens)
- You search for its burrow(s), get medicine and start a 8-12 month treatment plan (minimum) that you have to be committed to (finding that particular wombat’s burrows – they can have multiple burrows – is challenging, especially if on private property)
- You do nothing and the wombat will suffer incredibly as the mange progresses, become flyblown and infected, suffer from organ failure, lack of sleep, itching from the mites, being attacked by healthy wombats, losing sight and hearing as scabs form over eyes and ears, and eventually, after suffering this badly, it will die.