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New hope for critically endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat

10 May. 2022
Queensland Government

The Wombat Foundation have been awarded a $248,000 grant through the Federal Government’s Environment Restoration Fund to protect and expand Australia’s critically endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat population. Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science (DES) and Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) are partners in the grant.

Over the last 30 years, the DES-led recovery program – supported by Glencore and The Wombat Foundation – has seen great success with wombat numbers increasing from 35 to more than 300 animals at Epping Forest National Park (EFNP) in central Queensland and a second population established at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge (RUNR) in southern Queensland. This increase is attributable to the recovery program’s admirable efforts to improve ecological knowledge of the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, protect habitat, exclude predators, secure resources and in establishing the second population at RUNR.

Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. Queensland Government

AWC is a new partner in the project, and collaborative efforts will deliver crucial on-ground actions to reinforce the dog-proof fence at EFNP, support the two last remaining populations at EFNP and RUNR, and contribute towards the reintroduction of the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat to a third site.

AWC ecologists, DES scientists and volunteers have been on the ground at RUNR this month, conducting health checks and collecting genetic samples for analysis. This is an exciting training opportunity for AWC scientists, as the conservation organisation will take over research and management responsibilities of the DES Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat Recovery Program, working alongside the brilliant volunteers who are part of DES’s caretaker program.

To improve the genetic diversity of the RUNR population, up to four wombats will be translocated from EPFNP to RUNR over the coming months by DES, with on-ground support of AWC ecologists. GPS monitoring of these wombats will provide key insights into survivorship, movement, and any interactions with the extant Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats. This knowledge will help inform the founding of a third population at a new site in the future as well as the long-term management of the species.

Richard Underwood Nature Refuge trapping Richard Underwood Nature Refuge trapping. Brad Leue/AWC

Dr Alexander Watson, Australian Wildlife Regional Ecologist, is one of four key AWC staff members working on the project.

‘It’s great to see the team working together on the ground at the refuge. Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats are one of Australia’s most endangered animals, which makes working with them very special’ explained Dr Watson. ‘Trapping them is unlike anything you’ve seen. Due to their large size, cage traps have to be specially built as well as GPS collars for monitoring.’

‘AWC is really proud to be involved in this collaborative project to save the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat and will bring to the table many years of experience as a leading proponent of native mammal reintroductions in Australia,’ said Dr Watson.

The increase in Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat numbers over the last 30 years is a hopeful sign for the species, but, with more than 95% of the population at one location (EFNP), the wombat remains one of the most critically threatened mammals in the world. This new project aims to change that.

Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat mother and joey Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat mother and joey. Queensland Government

The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat is one of the 100 priority threatened species under the Threatened Species Strategy Action Plan 2021-2026. At an average of 32 kilograms and one metre in length, the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat is Australia’s largest wombat and the largest herbivorous burrowing mammal in the world. They live in extensive burrow systems – one mapped burrow system included over 90 metres of tunnels – and sleep up to 18 hours a day.

Once widespread in the semi-arid zone of eastern Australia, threats like habitat loss, predation, competition and climate change have seen the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat distribution retract to just one population in central Queensland and a reintroduced population in southern Queensland. One of the highest priorities identified of the collaborative project will be establishing a third population.

The $248,000 Environment Restoration Fund grant to The Wombat Foundation, with in-kind contributions from The Wombat Foundation, DES and AWC will be transformative for the conservation of the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat.

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