Tuesday 4 April 2017
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Wombat Sarcoptic Mange


Mr FINCH (Rosevears)- Mr President, it is no exaggeration to say that those fighting the terrible disease of wombat sarcoptic mange are disappointed by the Government's response.  They are grateful for the $100 000 grant recently announced but say it is far too little to deal with the fast‑increasing problem and much more needs to be done.

One of the volunteers helping to treat affected wombats in my electorate, John Harris, says there is no serious acknowledgement of the problem and progress is slow to roll out and create treatment and recovery centres.

I explained in an earlier special interest speech on the declining wombat numbers how affected animals can be treated.  I would like to refresh members' memories briefly.  The mange is caused by sarcoptic mites, which burrow into the flesh of a wombat causing such irritation that the wombat scratches itself to open wounds.  It loses its sight, goes deaf and is covered in platelets of mange‑affected flesh as it slowly dies from secondary infection and thirst from dehydration.  It is then vulnerable as prey to dogs and eagles as well.

It is a slow, cruel and painful death but the condition can be successfully treated using a method which has been working for 15 years across Australia.  Volunteers in my electorate of Rosevears and elsewhere use a burrow flap method to apply an insecticide to wombats who pass under the flap.  Volunteers have saved hundreds of wombats, but there is an urgent need to properly coordinate these volunteer groups that are working around Tasmania and we need to have a full scientific assessment.

Eventually an antidote, a vaccine or genetic mutation of the mange mite will need to be developed, and this requires substantial research funding.  In the meantime, there needs to be a coordinated plan to locate, assess, treat and trace the animals, and ensure there is no reinfection.  This also needs full government support and funding.

The problem is that the mites are carried on cattle, wallabies, devils and dogs.  They are easily spread between wombats as they touch, fight, play, mate or share a burrow.  The mange has spread across every part of Tasmania except for the Southwest National Park.  I am sad to report there are no wombats left in the Narawntapu National Park in the northern part of my electorate.

John Harris, the volunteer I mentioned earlier, has founded the Wombat Warriors organisation which receives reports of sightings of affected wombats on its Facebook page every day. 

The will is there out in the community to save Tasmanian wombats, but there needs to be much more official support. It is an absolute nonsense that permits are still being given to shoot wombats.

We came close to losing Tasmania's iconic devils.  Let us not lose our wombats - particularly the bare-nosed wombat, which is endemic to Tasmania.  You only have to watch visitors to Cradle Mountain and their fascination with our wombats to see they are a visitor attraction particularly to those from overseas and Asia in particular.

Unfortunately, the mange has spread to Cradle Mountain, so you can imagine what stories tourists will take home if they see dying wombats at Ronny Creek or by spotlight from the Cradle Mountain tour vehicles.  Not a good look for Tasmanian wildlife management or for tourism.  We need more help for wombats.