Glencore (Xstrata) reintroduction project
What are we doing?
A second colony is being established for the northern hairy-nosed wombats. To achieve this, three partners are working together, with landowners Ed and Gabriele Underwood providing the site, Glencore (Xstrata) a leading mining company providing sponsorship, and the department planning and implementing the project. More details are available on the Glencore reintroduction project: design and methods page.
Why are we doing this?
There is a significant risk that one natural event such as fire, flood, drought or disease could wipe out the entire species of the northern hairy-nosed wombat whilst there remained only one population at Epping Forest National Park. Therefore, a second colony was needed to minimise the risk of extinction. In order to establish a second colony, it was necessary to translocate wombats from Epping Forest National Park to a new site.
Any reintroduction project has risks for the individuals involved. There is a real risk that this reintroduction project will not succeed and that individual animals may not survive. However, the effort must be made to overcome the greater risk to the species. During the course of the reintroduction project, every effort has been made to reduce the risk to every wombat involved.
The reintroduction of wombats to a new site is also a specific objective of the recovery plan for the northern hairy-nosed wombat Lasiorhinus krefftii 2004–2008.
Glencore (formerly Xstrata), a leading mining company, has sponsored the reintroduction project as part of their Corporate Social Involvement (CSI) Program which supports initiatives in the areas of health, education, environment, arts and culture, social and community development, and enterprise and job creation.
Glencore's generous sponsorship of the northern hairy-nosed wombat reintroduction project was acknowledged at a gala dinner and prestigious awards ceremony for the Third Sustainable Industries Awards on 31 October 2008, where they were presented with a certificate of appreciation.
On 13 April 2011, a special event was held at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge to celebrate the successful partnership between the department, Glencore, and the Underwood family. A plaque commemorating the completion of the first three years in partnership was unveiled by a representative of each contributing party.
Glencore continues to support the department’s work in delivering the northern hairy-nosed wombat recovery program.
Richard Underwood Nature Refuge
In order to establish a second population of the northern hairy-nosed wombat, a site for the reintroduction had to be found.
Several studies were undertaken to investigate potential suitable habitat for northern hairy-nosed wombats. The studies incorporated satellite imagery, soil, landform and regional ecosystem mapping, site visits for vegetation and soil testing.
A suitable site, with the right soils, vegetation and landscape to support the wombat population, was found at Yarran Downs near St George in southern Queensland. (St George is the type locality for the northern hairy-nosed wombat).
The owners of Yarran Downs, Ed and Gabriele Underwood entered into a Nature Refuge agreement over the part of their property that was to be the reintroduction site for the wombats. Their nature refuge, the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge, was gazetted on the 27 November 2008 and protects about 130 hectares of eucalypt woodland on old river levees.
Part of the area that has become the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge and the adjacent Reserve for Environmental Purposes had an Authority to Prospect (ATP) covering it. Bow Energy Ltd the holders of the ATP voluntarily agreed to an amendment which excluded the area within the predator-proof fence from any activity.
Preparing for the translocation of the wombats
Preparing for the translocation of northern hairy-nosed wombats from Epping Forest National Park to the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge required a lot of work.
At the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge, the following tasks had to be completed to prepare the release site:
- constructing the infrastructure, including an environmentally-friendly house and a workshop. The house is as an office and ranger accommodation, and was built from sustainable materials including compressed straw ceiling panels, rice and wheat straw insulation, natural polymers, and hardboard sheeting made from waste forest products. Constructing a predator-proof fence to prevent the entry of wild dogs, feral cats and foxes. The fence was constructed by Conservation Volunteers Australia and others after initial work done by Ed Underwood. During the construction of the fence, predators were excluded from the reintroduction enclosure
- installing supplementary water stations that are filled by a gravity-fed water-reticulation system
- installing wombat monitoring equipment, such as remote cameras and tracking systems
- constructing wombat starter burrows.
More details are available on the Glencore reintroduction project: design and methods page.
Wombats in the air: translocating the wombats
Translocating (that is moving) wombats from Epping Forest National Park to the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge involves coordination between specialised teams at each site.
At Epping Forest National Park, trapping was conducted over several nights to capture wombats using cage-tunnel traps. Caught wombats are sedated, measured, tagged, have a health check, and are assessed for their suitability for translocation. Suitable wombats are flown south to St. George, and then driven to the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge.
At the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge, newly arrived wombats are carefully transported to a starter burrow, released into the burrow, and then closely monitored.
Since 2009 there have been 15 wombats translocated to the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge. You can read more details about the translocations in the wombat translocation diary.
Wombats settling in to their new home
Since being translocated wombats have been using the starter burrows, digging their own burrows, readily grazing and drinking from the supplementary water stations.
But best of all, in March 2011 it was confirmed that one of the female wombats was carrying a joey in her pouch. This was followed by news in April 2011 of a second female carrying a joey. These are significant milestones, and indicate that the project has achieved the right conditions at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge to allow the wombats to breed.
As with any reintroduction project, there are risks involved and there have been some deaths of wombats at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge. While these deaths are significant to the small colony, they are a reality of nature and are providing rangers with new information that will assist with the future management of this species.
More details about the wombats settling in to their new home can be found in the wombat translocation diary.
Managing the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge for the wombats
As at Epping Forest National Park, the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge is managed to protect the wombats and their habitat from potential threats.
A caretaker program has been established, where volunteers help to maintain the Nature Refuge and monitor the wombats.
Controlled burns are undertaken at the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge to ensure that there is adequate grazing suitability for wombats, and to reduce the risk of a large uncontrolled burn. Controlled burns are planned in accordance with the department's guidelines.
Before any wombats were translocated to the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge, there was significant work removing invasive tiger pear cactus (Opuntia aurantiaca) from the site, and ongoing spot-removals are keeping this weed under control.
As there are introduced predators (such as wild dogs, foxes and feral cats) that are threats to the wombats, the following management actions are undertaken:
- predator-proof fence stops wild dogs from entering the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge, and its 'floppy top' prevents feral cats from climbing over. This fence is regularly checked and maintained
- a series of sand plots around the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge are also regularly checked to see if they have recorded any footprints of predators.
You can follow the progress of the northern hairy-nosed wombat reintroduction project in the wombat translocation diary.