Dec 12, 2017

Helping to Manage Wombat Mange

Volunteers surveying wombats
Volunteers surveying wombats

Areas of Tasmania’s Wombat population are experiencing severe outbreaks of wombat mange, where over 90% of the local wombats have died due to the disease. The reason for the severe outbreaks is unknown, and while efforts are being made to help individual wombats, we are now focusing holistically on the wombat population across the entire island state of Tasmania. Conservation Volunteers Australia in conjunction with the University of Tasmania and the Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment has teamed up to tackle the issue and gather much needed data to make long term strategic decisions that will benefit all wombats. 

We are now conducting wombat surveys twice a year across seven key locations around the state. Our aim is to help get a better understanding of mange prevalence at a population level. Surveys at each site are carried out over three days, and are done pre-dusk and repeated in the dark. Volunteers are also collecting samples of scats, which will be analysed to see if DNA has any impact on a wombat's susceptibility to contracting mange. The information obtained as part of this project will help determine best practice mange management across the state. 

When surveying wombats, our volunteers use binoculars, spotting scopes and spotlights at night to look for signs of hair-loss on the sides of the wombats. Interestingly, hair-loss on the backside of the wombat is not necessarily indicative of mange, as wombats will often take a bite at the rump of a nearby wombat as a territorial behaviour. When hair-loss is noticed, volunteers classify the severity of the hair-loss on 4 segments of the animal (rear, side, front, and head) on both sides of the body.  The scats (droppings) collected from each site are sent off to the lab for analysis where parasite egg counts will take place alongside the DNA testing.

Projects have been completed at Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area, Narawntapu National Park, Mt William National Park, Flinders Island, Central Plateau, Freycinet and Tasman Peninsula. It was encouraging to find healthy wombats with little or no sign of mange in several locations, but our surveys highlighted that mange is prevalent and severe in some individuals at Narawntapu National Park, Mt William National Park, Central Highlands and Flinders Island.

The data collected so far has been very insightful and valuable, but we need to continue this program to really gain a full picture of what is happening to these beloved marsupials across Tasmania. We’d like to thank all our wonderful volunteers who have braved the weather and late nights in remote areas to monitor these wombats. We would also like to thank our generous donors at Global Giving who are a crucial part of our success in this project - you really are helping to make a difference to the survival of our wombats!

We hope you have a safe and happy holiday season, and we look forward updating you on our progress in 2018.

Volunteers looking for mange
Volunteers looking for mange
Nov 13, 2017

Little Pygmy-possum!

Little Pygmy-possum, Matilda
Little Pygmy-possum, Matilda

As spring weather warms Victoria’s Little Desert, Little Pygmy-possums and other native animals are becoming more active, making this a perfect time to undertake wildlife monitoring for our Rewilding the Desert initiative. Wildlife monitoring is the most effective way to get a clear picture of the state of the desert ecosystem and the species that live in it.

Using humane catch and release methods and supervised by our experienced ecologists, our volunteer citizen scientists have been counting, measuring, recording and safely releasing mammals, reptiles and invertebrates, and recording data on vegetation, soils and habitat. This year’s trapping program has brought us another delight, this Little Pygmy Possum (pictured above) we nicknamed Matilda! Although Matilda is nocturnal and looks like she is asleep, she is actually in torpor; a type of short term hibernation. Matilda uses torpor to conserve energy when it’s too cold outside or there is a shortage of food.  Weighing in at only 4.5 grams (about the same as a dice), Matilda forages mainly on nectar and pollen from flowering plants - one of her favourites is the big bright banksia flowers like this Desert Banksia pictured below.

In other news, we are still preparing for our trial reintroduction planned for this time next year, but there is still much more work to be done. Before reintroductions begin, we need to make some critical upgrades to our external predator proof fences and improve our captive breeding and wildlife display facilities to have the capacity to acquire, house and breed these rare native animals. To make this happen we need your support to buy rolls of wire, netting, fence pins, posts and screws! Please consider sharing our story with your family and friends to help us achieve our goals and provide a wild future for our much loved native animals, like Matilda.

We’d like to say thank you again to our amazing supporters and donors! Without your support we cannot continue this critical project and help conserve Australia’s weird, wonderful and highly threatened native wildlife.

Desert Banksia
Desert Banksia
Matilda returning home
Matilda returning home
Volunteers checking pitfall traps
Volunteers checking pitfall traps

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Nov 9, 2017

Spring Monitoring and a Brand-New Home!

We have just completed our spring monitoring in Hamilton, and once again the site is looking fantastic due to good winter and spring rainfall. Conservation Volunteers Australia’s Project Officer, Travis Scicchitano reports: “Our spotlighting produced numbers of more than 30 individuals in only an hour, which is a great indication that our bandicoots are thriving. The local community are invited to these events and it’s such a thrill to see them engaged and excited about their local marsupial recovery.  All the animals passed their health checks easily and all the females had pouch young, ranging in size from little ‘jelly beans’ to fully furred critters.  If they didn’t have babies they all had teats that showed signs of lactation, which means they were rearing babies nearby in the nest.  It was an excellent result and no doubt our individual count has gone up significantly.”

Woodlands Historical Park monitoring took place in mid-October.  Woodlands received under average rainfall this season that reduced the quality of the grassland habitat.  Travis explains: “The Eastern Barred Bandicoot breeds to the conditions available so it has the ability to very quickly increase or decrease its breeding, making for a healthier population.  Fortunately, we only witnessed a small drop in numbers during this round of monitoring. We also had veterinarians set up for this event to assist in health checks and a few blood tests (yes even bandicoots get blood tests!). The vets gave all the animals a clear bill of health – great news for the species!”

We are also very excited to announce that we now have a brand-new home for bandicoots at Phillip Island! Phillip Island is located 140 km (87 mi) south-southeast of Melbourne, Victoria, with an area of about 100 km2 (40 sq mi). This site is managed by Phillip Island Nature Parks who are part of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot recovery team.  The Island is now fox free and has become the first island to assist in threatened species recovery.  Check out the video from our friends at Zoos Victoria, documenting the largest release of Eastern Barred Bandicoots ever!

Even though it is not on the mainland of Australia, Phillip Island will provide invaluable numbers to assist in the overall recovery of the bandicoots.  Woodlands played a pivotal role in this first release of bandicoots. There were 44 bandicoots released in total into the new site – 10 from Woodlands (5 male and 5 female), 11 from Zoos Victoria and 23 from Chrurchill Island, which is an offshoot to Phillip Island. Travis says, “we hope they all enjoy their new home and start breeding to increase the population.  This event is also a significant showcase in how agencies can all come together to achieve an amazing result.  Well done and thank you to the entire Easter Barred Bandicoot Recovery team.”

We’d like to say thank you to our very generous GlobalGiving donors again for your ongoing support. It has been an incredibly successful year, with significant steps made towards securing a future for the Eastern Barred Bandicoot. We look forward to updating you on our progress in 2018.

Released after health checks complete
Released after health checks complete

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