IN THE NEWS: On NOV 20, 2012
South Australia's fauna emblem the southern hairy-nosed wombat is starving in the Murraylands, according to an animal welfare group.
Brigitte Stevens, founding director of the Wombat Awareness Organisation, says hundreds of wombats are dying in an area stretching from Mannum to Morgan, near the Riverland.
She says the organisation is continuing to conduct food drops in the area, but some of the wombats are too weak to walk to reach the food, or are in areas rescuers can't access.
There is also a shortage of funding and the food drops may not be able to continue.
"Unfortunately this year the wombats only had four weeks of natural food available to them," Ms Stevens said.
"We saw an increase in the weight of some of the wombats over that short time, but it's not enough to get them through the summer.
"We've had to step up with our food drops.
"It's actually so desperate now that we're just driving around and every time we see a starving wombat we're throwing them a biscuit of hay, because they don't have enough energy to walk the distance to reach the food we'd been leaving," Ms Stevens said.
Ms Stevens says onion weed is an ongoing problem in the area.
Weaning young too early
She says this year there is no grass growing and the lack of food has led to wombats trying to wean their young early, which is further compounding the problem.
"Wombats that were well enough to breed last year are weaning their babies when they reach two to three kilograms in weight, instead of the usual 10 to 15 kilograms," she said.
"There is absolutely no chance that these little animals can survive.
"Basically they're sitting there and we can just walk up to them and pick them up and we have to bring them into care.
"I would say hundreds of them are dying, we drive past hundreds every day just to save one, we can't catch the ones that are sitting on top of their burrow, or if they're running, we have to save the ones that are lying there or sitting there waiting for us."
Against the odds
Ms Stevens says last month she took a wombat into care, which at first glance appeared to be little more than a skeleton.
She says the wombat collapsed in her arms.
Now named Fate, the wombat is recovering under the care of vets and rescuers.
The Wombat Awareness Organisation first noticed sick wombats in the Murraylands region two years ago.
Rescuers thought they were dealing with mange, but have since realised the problem is due to a lack of food.
The three-member group, is feeding wombats along roadsides and on properties where members have been granted access.
Food relief costly
The group says the sheer number of wombats its taking into care means the food drops may need to stop.
"Our vet bills are a couple of thousand dollars a week, we're still getting other animals that are hit by cars, there is just not enough money," Ms Stevens said.
"The food drops are the first things that are going to have to stop because we need the money for the animals already in care, to look after their rehabilitation.
"Without the food drops the wombats would already be dying en-masse."
The Wombat Awareness Organisation estimates its saved 4500 wombats by taking them into care over the past two years, but says thousands more have been saved by the food drops.
The organisation is hoping the Government will consider providing funding for relief projects - for more information or to donate visit the Wombat Awareness Organisation.