In February 2015, three Australian wombats were released onto protected land in western Sydney. Named Pudding, Stitch and Oliver, the animals were rescued after their mother was hit by a car. Now living in a man-made burrow on land owned by the Wearn family outside Penrith, the three bald-nosed or common wombats are the first of 12 of their species that will be returned to the area to help increase the native population. This change is a significant one in a country that has struggled to translate environmental research into positive change for its endangered species.
Wombats have largely disappeared from many parts of western Sydney, a prominent area of New South Wales, over the course of the last two decades as urban sprawl, expanding farmland and land clearing took their toll. In response, the Australian Wildlife Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) is releasing the rescued trio into the Mulgoa Landcare project, which hopes to restore the native biodiversity of the area. The area in question is owned by the Wearn family under Australia’s biobanking program, which unlike the popular form of translational research, allows landowners to generate income by managing land for conservation. Meanwhile, the Local Land Service (LLS) is instituting a wild dog and fox control program to help curb the impact of these pest species and promote the success of native animals like the wombat.
While it may seem far from dramatic, the successful introduction of the wombats and other native species will be an important change in Australia. Environmental research shows that the country is losing its remarkable biodiversity at a remarkable rate, and yet it has been hampered by debate over policies like the biobanking program. Fortunately, environmental researchers have been able to preserve genetic samples from many endangered species under the more traditional form of biobanking by utilizing freezer software and biorepository management systems. However, even these programs have struggled to survive due to reduced funding and a lack of resources.
Because of this, WIRES and its partner organizations are reluctant to leave the survival of the wombats to chance. The Cumberland Land Conservancy and the University of Western Sydney, for example, have installed seven motion-sensing cameras around their manmade burrow to study their progress. Likewise, natural science students from UWS will study the relocation of the wombats as part of their field studies.