The southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons) is a charismatic Australian marsupial species, South Australia’s state faunal emblem, a species of conservation significance and a major soil engineer within the semi arid zone.
Their natural digging behaviour facilitates aeration of soil, penetration of water, collection of soil nutrients and their burrows provide protection from predators and environmental extremes for a large variety of other vertebrate fauna across the landscapes in which they occur.
Unfortunately, the southern hairy-nosed wombat is also a species in conflict with agriculture with its grazing nature and burrowing life style having a significant negative impact on farm infrastructure (fences, roads, tanks etc), crop yields, stocking rates, prevalence of weeds and exotic vertebrate pest species and farm income.
This results in significant conflict between the needs of the animal, those of the farmers, the expectations of the public and state wildlife management agencies.
Wildlife management agencies issue culling permits to farmers to control wombat impacts, but have great difficulty assessing the wombat population size and the degree of the problem.
This difficulty arises due to the cryptic nature of the wombats, the variability in burrow activity and warren use, feed quality and the influence of disease; not to mention the impact of droughts on breeding and survival.
No alternatives to culling are currently being offered.
The critical information needed to inform management and conservation agencies are absent and there is currently no management plan in place which attempts to balance the needs of the wombat, its long term conservation and ecosystem health on the one hand and those of the rural sector on the other.
This project will:
- Conduct a detailed social science survey of attitudes, opinions and ideas around southern hairy-nosed wombat conservation and management from all relevant stakeholders and identify conflict zones and particular issues that need addressing in a species management plan.
- Address critical gaps in our knowledge of wombat life history and ecology and their role as an ecosystem engineer that are required to balance the competing needs / expectations of: wombats, ecosystem health, landholders, conservation groups and the broader community.
- Develop modelling methods for assessing wombat distribution and abundance to facilitate rapid and accurate assessment of wombat population size.
- Examine the impacts / prevalence of sarcoptic mange (spread by foxes) and other diseases on wombat population numbers and structure.
- Examine the use of non-lethal management techniques for controlling / managing wombats (chemical / physical deterrents, translocation, infrastructure modifications etc).
- Collect information on the genetic and reproductive health of fragmented wombat populations to help guide management actions.
- Write a southern hairy-nosed wombat management plan for wildlife agencies which balances the needs of wombats, ecosystem health and the rural sector to promote and help secure co-existence between this species and the agricultural sector for the long-term benefit of all.