Tuesday 11 October 2016
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Wombat Mange



Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, Tasmania's flora and fauna have had a pretty hard time since European settlement.  As far as our animals are concerned, the demise of the Tasmanian tiger was a tragedy which has upset Tasmania's natural animal balance forever - although we did see a story yesterday where somebody believes there is still at least one or others in existence in Tasmania.  We know the Tasmanian devil is under threat but should survive with the help being offered in abundance.  With the imbalance, the eastern quoll is also threatened, one of the very few native mammal predators left in Tasmania.
Europeans wiped out the giant wombat soon after settlement and now I am not happy to report that the smooth-nosed wombat is threatened by mange, a problem being fought with determination. 

 A wombat with sarcoptic mange is a very pitiful sight.  The parasitic Sarcoptes scabiei female mite burrows under the skin resulting in thick plaques which begin on the face and the flanks of the animal.  It is an extreme irritant and the plaques are scratched and ripped open and in the summer, fly maggots then become another issue for the animals.

The phases of mange are easily identified into three categories.  The first two are treatable but by the end stage, wombat immunity is so compromised, secondary infections lead to fatality, and the pouch young also become affected.  The animals go blind and deaf, so when they go to scavenge for food they do it in the daytime because they are unaware it is not night.  Predators like dogs and wedge‑tailed eagles can attack the wombats.  It is a shocking situation.

 Parks and Wildlife and Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment officers deal with the issue by shooting the affected wombats.  This may put them out of their misery but does nothing to eradicate the infestation.

The Tasmanian Wildlife Rehabilitation Council says the mange is treatable, but it requires community commitment and reliable volunteers which Tasmania does have in abundance.

Weekly doses of cydectin cattle pour-on are required for 12 weeks, followed by fortnightly treatments for two months or longer if the mange has already progressed.  This is where the volunteers come in.  They held a meeting recently and they said, 'We have a problem with the wombats'.  Forty-five people turned up to the meeting at Kelso because they have a concern for the wombat.  How do you administer a cattle pour-on to wombats with mange?  I will explain that shortly.

The Kelso community in my electorate are very keen to help fight wombat mange.  The volunteers there are running two programs.  One is 'Adopt a Wombat' which operates in the town area where wombats live under the buildings and in nearby paddocks, in house paddocks.  The second program covers rural acre sites where wombats' burrows can be hard to find and access.  The method used to regularly apply the pour-on, as shown in the photo I have distributed, uses a flap hanging from a frame at the burrow entrances and on pathways that are regularly used by the wombats.  The wombats brush against that hanging flap, they then pause, and it spills a dose of the pour-on onto the wombat's back.

The cydectin pour-on works as it does on cattle.  The dose needs to be applied only to a small area rather than the whole infestation, then it is drawn into the body of the animal.  The technology sounds complicated but it is almost absurdly simple.  The lid of an ice-cream container is hung by cable ties to a steel rod frame, a plastic bottle lid is jammed in the slit in the plastic and filled with the pour-on.  The wombat brushes underneath, the flap tilts, the pour-on spills from the bottle lid onto its back.  It is ingenious.

They are also using night cameras to take pictures of 'before and after' so they can keep a track of the cure for the adults.  The treatment regime may not be the ultimate solution to wombat mange but it makes a big difference.  It seems that European settlers upset the balance of Tasmania's fauna and it is now up to all of us to help minimise the damage.

Leader, I did appreciate that after the questioning last week you took the opportunity to come to my electorate at Rosevears to talk with the people and to see firsthand the work they are doing.  I think that inspiration from my electorate will spread through the rest of Tasmania and probably further afield.  You will be pleased to note, Mr President, this is episode one of my talk on wombat mange.  I will be back with episode two next week.