News from the Field, Press Release

Historic agreement to protect critically endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat

21 Oct. 2023
Brad Leue/AWC

In a historic new agreement, Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), a global leader in conservation, has entered into partnership with the Queensland Government to care for one of the last two remaining populations of the critically endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat in south-west Queensland.

AWC entered the new landmark agreement with the Queensland Government’s Department of Environment and Science (DES) this week, to assume management responsibilities of the wombat population at the 130-hectare Richard Underwood Nature Refuge (RUNR), located 45 minutes outside of St George. This is the first instance in which a private conservation organisation has been handed the reigns to manage a critically endangered species in partnership with DES and the Queensland Government. The agreement is also an extension of a partnership formed between AWC and DES in 2021, to collaborate on research and management of the wombats at the refuge.

 

Richard Underwood Nature Refuge (RUNR) sign
As part of a historic new agreement, AWC assumes management responsibilities of the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat population at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge (RUNR) – one of the last two remaining populations in the world.

 

Over the last 30 years, DES has led a recovery program for the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, supported by Glencore and The Wombat Foundation. With great success, DES has increased wombat numbers from 35 to more than 300 individuals at Epping Forest National Park (Scientific) (EFNP) in central Queensland and, with the support of the Underwood family, established the second population at RUNR in 2009. The increase in overall population numbers is attributable to the recovery program’s efforts to improve ecological knowledge of the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, protect habitat, exclude predators, secure resources and in establishing the second population.

Under the historic agreement, AWC will continue and expand on DES’ program at the refuge by undertaking strategic research and management responsibilities. This includes AWC’s recent collaboration with The Wombat Foundation to map out and better understand the wombat’s burrowing system through the use of ground penetrating radar technology. Findings from the study are expected to help inform the design of ‘starter’ burrows for future translocations of the species. AWC also plans to conduct population census and genetic management work at RUNR to develop a genetic management plan for the population.

AWC will also continue the threat management program at the refuge designed to protect the wombats and their habitat, including fire and weed management program. Feral predator and herbivore management will also be conducted along with maintenance to ensure the integrity of the site’s wild dog and fox exclusion fence.

 

AWC and DES signing the new RUNR agreement.
AWC and DES representatives signed the new agreement this week. Pictured (L-R): AWC’s Andrew Howe, Wayne Sparrow and Tim Allard with DES’ Kirstin Kenyon, Andrew Buckley, Jenny Molyneux, Manda Page and Dave Harper.

 

“This is a first of its kind arrangement for the Queensland Government and it’s a proud moment for all of us at AWC that DES would partner with us for this historic agreement,” Tim Allard, AWC Chief Executive Officer. “AWC has a proven track-record of restoring threatened species populations and manages a network of feral predator-free areas across mainland Australia. It’s a huge vote of confidence and a testament to our expertise that we would be entrusted with the care of one of the last populations of one of the world’s rarest mammals, the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat.”

“We have worked closely with DES over the last two years to understand the considerable requirements for the day-to-day management of the wombats at the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge and are confident in our ability to continue the consequential duty of protecting the rare wombat.”

 

Richard Underwood Nature Refuge (RUNR)
DES with support from Glencore, The Wombat Foundation and the Underwood family, established a second population of the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat at the 130-hectare RUNR in 2009.

 

Dr Manda Page, Director of Threatened Species in DES said there were only an estimated 35 individuals remaining at Epping Forest National Park in the 1980s, and following an intensive recovery program, now that location supports the large and very healthy population of over 300 individuals.

“We are looking forward to working with AWC on their management of the population at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge and their contribution to the ongoing recovery efforts for the species,” Dr Page said.

 

AWC and DES at RUNR
As part of the new agreement, AWC will expand on DES’ program at RUNR by undertaking strategic research and genetic management work, as well as implement a threat management program.

 

“AWC is well placed to manage the RUNR population while DES focuses on the Epping Forest population and an exciting new project to establish a third population at Powrunna State Forest. The Powrunna project is in partnership with the Gunggari Native Title Aboriginal Corporation and Gunggari Native Title Holders and with Glencore who have extended their long-term financial commitment for Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat recovery.

“The Queensland Government has boosted threatened species funding with an additional $14.7 million over four years, and $1 million ongoing annually to implement the Queensland Threatened Species Program dedicated to the protection and recovery of threatened species in Queensland.”

For more information on Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats, click here.

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