Your wombat refuge

Thursday 21 June, 2012

The woodlands and saltbush plains of Bon Bon Station Reserve are home to the southern hairy-nosed wombat. These endearing creatures have presented reserve manager Glen Norris with a tricky challenge.

Southern hairy-nosed wombat.Southern hairy-nosed wombat. Photo: Steve Parish.

Glen Norris has worked as reserve manager in charge of protecting over 200,000 hectares of sprawling desert, saltbush plains, wetlands and woodlands at Bon Bon Station Reserve  in South Australia for two-and-a-half years. Right now, he has a tricky situation on his hands.

Glen has to remove a large population of highly destructive feral rabbits from underground warren systems that they're currently sharing with a population of protected southern hairy-nosed wombats - and he has to work out how to do this without harming the wombats, or their precious burrows.

The ultimate digging machine

Reserve Manager, Glen Norris“It's important we reduce rabbit populations, and soon," says Glen. "Thanks to lots of help from Bush Heritage supporters since we bought Bon Bon and de-stocked it, much of the land is now in great condition.“

Smaller than their cousin the common wombat, southern hairy-nosed wombats have soft, fluffy fur (even on their nose), long sticky-up ears and narrow snouts. With squat, strongly built bodies and short legs ending in large paws with strong blade-like claws, they are the ultimate marsupial digging machine.

Their burrows range in size from two metres in length to more extensive systems of up to 30 metres. They excavate them using the sharp, flattened digging claws on their front legs, and push soil and rocks out with their back legs. Once they've made some headway, they roll onto their sides and start enlarging the roof and walls.

Up to ten wombats may share a refuge, but will move between burrows and even warrens. Males can be territorial, resorting to nasty biting of the ears, flank and rump when they want to make a point.

Night, camera, action!


"It's hard to say whether the wombats or the rabbits were here first," says Glen. "But you have to assume it was the wombats because they're a local native species and have probably been here for many, many years. Whereas rabbits are introduced pests."

What Glen found at Bon Bon

1,781

Number of rabbit warrens

220

Number of wombat burrows

200 million

Estimated number of feral rabbits threatening native species in Australia

Since their release into the wild by early European settlers, rabbits have been the scourge of the Australian bush, consuming vast amounts of native seeds and grasses, and competing with wombats and other native animals for vital nutrition. Their grazing has caused widespread damage to the land - resulting in soil erosion and enabling the spread of noxious weeds.

With your support we'll be able to face the challenges ahead

"Our wombats live in a particularly special area: a vast 26,000-hectare ephemeral drainage system called ‘the labyrinth' that feeds into a series of freshwater and saltwater lakes and claypans.

A motion sensing camera captured both wombats and rabbits using this burrowWombats often share their burrows with rabbits. Photo: Glen Norris.

It's really pretty country, virtually weed-free and it attracts some amazing native woodland birds, including South Australia's only endemic species, the chestnut-breasted whiteface. We also expect to find these wombats in the rocky hills in the south west of the property, which is the next area to be surveyed."

Bon Bon is pretty much ‘wombat heaven', or it will be once we deal with the rabbits.

"On Boolcoomatta Reserve, 500km from here, we've had great success reducing rabbit numbers by destroying their warrens and leaving them with nowhere to live and breed," says Glen. "This will have a fantastic flow-on effect for native plant regeneration, and increases in the numbers and diversity of native animals the reserve protects."

"Here, because our wombats rely on their burrows as a refuge from heat, we'll have to proceed really carefully. We've just finished mapping the ‘labyrinth' area, so we know exactly where the rabbits are in that part of the reserve, where the wombats are and where their burrows actually overlap. Over the next two years we'll map the other areas these animals live on Bon Bon."

So while Bon Bon's wombats keep digging away, Glen will be doing the same - working on the best way of ensuring that these very special native residents remain safe (and rabbit-free) for many generations to come in their ‘wombat heaven'.

How our supporters helped create a refuge for Bon Bon's wombats and other native animals

  • Western Myall woodlandSeedlings of the western myall tree are heavily grazed by rabbits, preventing regeneration. Photo: Glen Norris.
    Purchase of the former sheep station in 2008
  • Removal of sheep and repair of boundary fences to keep neighbour's stock out
  • Control of recent summer bushfires
  • Soil conservation works to reduce erosion
  • Ongoing management of invasive weeds like buffel grass
  • Feral control programs for rabbits, foxes and feral cats.

Bon Bon Station Reserve was acquired in 2008 with the assistance of the Australian Government's National Reserve System program, the Government of South Australia and the Besen Family Foundation. Thanks also to The Native Vegetation Council for support of vital conservation work on Bon Bon this year.

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