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Over the past 10 years I have observed and treated free living wombats for mange on our 210 hectare property. I attended the first Wombat Protection Society symposium on mange in 2007 and other workshops to better understand how to help wombats affected by this horrible parasite. I walk about a kilometer, along the banks of the River at least daily to check for signs of wombat activity and use a number of trail cameras to help monitor the number and health of the wombats on this part of the property, as well as other unwelcome feral animals. The cameras also provide useful information about which burrows the wombats are using and when they leave and return to their burrows.
There are 25 wombat burrow entrances along the one kilometer stretch of the river I patrol and currently, there seems to be two mother wombats with joeys at foot, and two or three large adults. There are many other wombats on the property. But the river is the area I focus on mostly.
This is the story of one wombat joey saved from a slow painful death from mange, due partly to chance and partly to my slightly obsessive routine, monitoring wombats on our property.
12th June 2017
It was on one of my daily walks along the banks of the River on our property, that I noticed a wombat joey out on its own, sitting just outside a burrow. It seemed to be sunning itself as wombats often do when they have advanced mange and lots of bare skin. It looked badly manged with some broken skin – a weeping area, with blood on its side, from scratching. There was no sign of its mother. I assumed if she was alive, she would have mange as well. I estimated the joey to be about 12 months old / 10 kilograms. Too young to be away from its mother.
The joey had its back to me, so I was able to get close enough – within about three metres, (the length of the apparatus / “wand”, plus my arm) to apply a chemical called Maximus® – Moxidectin to its body. I applied the chemical three times on different parts of the wombat joeys body, on intact skin, trying to get high up between the shoulder blades.
12th June: The first sighting of the wombat Joey affected by mange, out alone, sunning itself early in the
afternoon at 2.38 pm. I applied 80 mL Maximus – Moxidectin withthe “wand” in a couple of places,
without it really knowing or being stressed.
While the recommended dose is 1 ml per 10 kilograms of body weight, with a maximum of 4 mls required for the biggest wombat you are likely to find at 40 kg, this recommendation is for the situation when the chemical is applied to cattle with a jetting gun and under pressure. With dogs the recommended method is to part the fur to expose the skin, so the chemical goes directly onto the skin and does not sit on the fur.
My method is to let about 30 ml pour onto the wombat in one spot, and up to 80 mls, depending on whether I think I will get a chance to put the chemical in a second or third spot on the wombat, so that the chemical reaches the skin. There is also the issue of the wombat shaking the chemical off, once it smells it or feels the liquid on its skin and realises something strange is going on. I understand overdosing is not a problem and I have never experienced a problem with these higher rates of application. A common practice for me is to use 80ml in one spot, on intact healthy skin, every week for two months.
As many of you would know, this is a chemical pour on also known as a backliner or external drench, used to treat internal and external parasites in cattle, including the mange mite. Something similar is also used for dogs, but is far more expensive. There are a number of different brands of backliners on the market – Cydectin® is probably the best known with Moxidectin as the active ingredient.
The “wand” I use is a 2 metre piece of wood dowel with a 100 millilitre plastic bottle with a lid, wired onto the dowel. I usually take this wand with me on my walks just in case I come across a wombat to treat. It is not uncommon to see wombats out in the day and afternoon in winter in the cooler climates.
Same day – 12th June: the wombat Joey returning to its burrow.
6th July: A month later – Joey showing healed skin improvement. Dispensers are behind it over the
burrow. This and nearby burrows were abandoned after about a week. Photo taken with trail camera at night.
Maximus® – Moxidectin was placed in the burrow flap / dispensers on this burrow where the joey was seen and nearby ones, hoping to treat the mother as well, and provide follow up treatment for the joey.
Saturday 8th July
A month later, the same joey wombat appeared with its mother at 4pm, coming down from a rocky hillside and onto the river bank to graze. Both showed signs of mange. The joey, dosed a month earlier showed a big improvement, with no broken skin but still some bare skin. It was also drinking water from the river – never a good sign as wombats generally get the required hydration from eating grass. This was the first time I had seen the mother who seemed moderately affected by mange on her side.
I was able to get close enough to apply Maximus® to both the mother and her joey. The joey received two good big doses, applied in one spot. Both were unaware of my presence or that the chemical had been applied to them. The mother raised her nose in the air for a moment, probably aware of the smell, or the wet sensation of the chemical reaching her skin, but continued grazing.
The conditions were ideal to be able to get close enough to apply the chemical. Both were grazing, with their backs to me, I was walking on soft, green, short, grazed grass, upwind of the wombats, and the sound of the river covered any noise I might make. Perfect conditions to sneak up on a wombat!
I never chase or attempt to dose a wombat if I think I might fail through making a noise on crunchy dry grass or leaves. It only stresses the wombat and makes them very wary of the area, so they are likely to go elsewhere, which makes it even harder to find them.
I had been walking along the river regularly trying to find the joey at least to give it a second dose – ideally follow up treatment is weekly or fortnightly for six weeks to break the mange mite cycle. So I felt lucky to see them out in the daytime and able to get close enough to treat them.
The joey wombat had improved a lot, but still had some bare skin and the fur had not completely grown back. The weeping sore / lesion on its right hand side had completely healed.
I am often concerned that chemical dispensers / burrow flaps put over the burrows may not deliver enough chemical to actually get down to the skin to be absorbed, and may only sit on the fur. The dispensers I use, are made of corflute (old tree guards) with bottle caps. I use two or three caps per flap so that hopefully enough chemical will reach the skin and not just sit on the fur.
Another concern I have with the burrow flap dispensers is if there is a mother and joey, only the first wombat – usually the mother, will get a dose. Also, they sometimes approach the dispensers from one side or go through very quickly and the chemical ends up on the ground.
I feel confident, judging by the condition of the mother, she must have got enough chemical through the dispensers.
I have been looking for these wombats since 12 June – i.e. a month. Not ideal given they should be treated at least every two weeks. However, it appears that they have been through the burrow flap dispensers. How much chemical they received I do not know.
16th July: looks like healing scab on mother’s left shoulder, indicating this mother has received the chemical
treatment from the burrow flaps.
19th July: Mother showing an old scab falling off her left shoulder.
The joey and its mother received subsequent doses through the burrow flap dispensers but abandoned the burrows soon after the dispensers were put in place. So once again I was checking which burrows they were using and on the lookout for them in the late afternoon. Carrying the chemical “wand” at the ready should I be fortunate enough to see them out in the daytime!
5 August 2107 – sighting in the afternoon
On my daily wombat patrol, Moxidectin “wand” at the ready, huge excitement, the mother and joey were out in the afternoon at 4.08pm on 5 August. But, sadly, I could not get close enough to apply it, they were moving away too quickly up a rocky hillside.
I observed that both wombats had hair covering their entire bodies, although the mother still had a bare, whitish scabby patch, which appears to be healing skin on her shoulder. Both looked a bit scruffy – hair / fur standing up, dry looking. But the good news is they are both covered in hair. Further treatment is still indicated by their condition.
7th August 4.08 pm: Joey and mother going through a hole in the fence, two months after joey’s first dose of Maximus. The next photo, taken two days later shows the joey’s condition better.
10th August: A night time photo showing the Joey wombat leaving the burrow. Dispenser will now be placed over this and other entrances of this burrow.
Saturday 2nd September – 18 days later – I went on my late afternoon walk, Moxidectin wand in hand, and to my joy, saw the mother and joey out near a burrow. They saw me first and retreated to the burrow. Usually I would put a burrow flap on the burrow, knowing they are in there because they are already alarmed and likelihood of them coming out for at least 30 minutes is unlikely. However, because my goal is to apply a dose directly to the joey, concerned it may not be getting one through the burrow flaps I decided to persevere and very carefully and quietly got close to the burrow entrance. I stood still for about 10 or 15 minutes and much to my surprise the joey came out of the burrow first, despite growls and hissing from its mother who remained wary just inside the burrow. I managed to get about four large doses onto different parts of the joey who despite appearing to feel or smell the liquid, did not attempt to re-enter the burrow. I triumphantly and very quietly retreated and the joey remained outside the burrow, clearly not concerned about what had just happened.