Australia has three species of wombats. The largest, the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii), averages about 32 kg and is more than a metre long. It is listed as endangered both under the Queensland Conservation Act and nationally under the federal Environment Protection and Conservation Act.
Until about six years ago this species could only be found in Epping Forest National Park north-west of Clermont in central Queensland - a small scientific park of 3160 ha of open woodland with areas of sandy soils – a vegetated “island” surrounded by mostly cleared grazing land. This park is dedicated to protecting the small wombat population.
In 2002 a two metre high fence was built around the park following the killing of some of the wombats by a pack of dogs. At this time there were just over a hundred wombats left.
Since then there has been a significant improvement to an estimated 220.
The population growth is largely due to the work of Dr Alan Horsup and his colleagues in the Queensland Government’s Threatened Species Unit.
It has also been assisted by the work of volunteer caretakers living in the park for a month at a time and carrying out a range of duties to ensure the wombats’ well-being. These include maintaining the watering stations around the park, checking the all-important fenceline, repairing access tracks, slashing, and servicing the motion cameras set up around the park to record wombat activity.
A small second population of wombats has been established in suitable habitat in southern Queensland near St George (part of the wombats’ former range). This was set up as insurance for the species’ survival in case of disease or natural disaster wiping out the Epping Forest population.
The increase in numbers at Epping Forest and the success of the translocation is encouraging Dr Horsup to consider establishing another separate population. This will be necessary when the current park reaches its carrying capacity of 300-350 perhaps in another five years.
This steady recovery of the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat is welcome news when so much of the natural world is under threat.
- Leonie Blain
This post was originally published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Daily Examiner on 28 September, 2015