Meet the gi­ant wom­bat that is sav­ing a town

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - Front Page -

A TINY out­back com­mu­nity in Queens­land is build­ing a gi­ant statue of the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered north­ern hairy-nosed wom­bat to rein­vig­o­rate the lo­cal econ­omy and to build hope for the fu­ture.

The ru­ral com­mu­nity of Thal­lon hopes the ar­rival of 2m high and 3.5m long Wil­liam the Wom­bat will prove a draw­card for tourists and boost the econ­omy.

The idea to cre­ate Wil­liam came out of a com­mu­nity meet­ing in 2015 when lo­cals brain­stormed ideas to rein­vig­o­rate the town fol­low­ing years of drought, loss of ser­vices and pop­u­la­tion de­cline.

The town has a spe­cial con­nec­tion to the north­ern hairy-nosed wom­bat with some of the ear­li­est spec­i­mens found in the area.

The species is one of the world’s most en­dan­gered mam­mals with just 250 re­main­ing – 240 at Ep­ping For­est Na­tional Park near Cler­mont in Queens­land and 10 at Richard Un­der­wood Na­ture Refuge just north of St Ge­orge, Queens­land.

While the wom­bats have long gone, moves are afoot to rein­tro­duce wom­bats into their for­mer range.

The Wom­bat Foun­da­tion is ded­i­cated to con­serv­ing the north­ern hairy-nosed wom­bat and is spon­sor­ing the project to build Wil­liam the Wom­bat.

Other fund­ing con­tri­bu­tions have come from FRRR (the Foun­da­tion for Ru­ral & Re­gional Re­newal), Queens­land Gov­ern­ment – Gam­bling Com­mu­nity Ben­e­fit Fund, and The Balonne Shire Coun­cil.

A re­port re­cently re­leased by The Wom­bat Foun­da­tion found there was an ur­gent need to find ad­di­tional sites for the wom­bats as they were set to run out of room to grow at their cur­rent home in Ep­ping For­est Na­tional Park by 2025.

Di­rec­tor Jac­qui Mills said it was great to be part of Wil­liam the Wom­bat’s jour­ney back to Thal­lon.

“It re­news our re­solve to find ad­di­tional sites for the north­ern hairy-nosed wom­bats to give them room to grow,” she said.

Thal­lon Progress As­so­ci­a­tion spokes­woman Leanne Bros­nan said Wil­liam had a dual pur­pose.

“This is about rais­ing pub­lic aware­ness to bring north­ern hairy-nosed wom­bats back from the brink, but also about bring­ing Thal­lon back from the brink af­ter suf­fer­ing many years of drought so it’s a shared aim,” she said.

Western Sydney Univer­sity will also be sup­port­ing Wil­liam’s jour­ney by lend­ing the use of its WomSAT on­line track­ing sys­tem. As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor Julie Old, from the School of Science and Health at Western Sydney Univer­sity, said WomSAT was a re­search tool that al­lowed ev­ery­day cit­i­zens to get in­volved in con­ser­va­tion ef­forts by re­port­ing wom­bat sight­ings.

“Wil­liam will be fit­ted with a ra­dio col­lar, so that any­one who is in­ter­ested can lo­gin to WomSAT and track his progress to Thal­lon,” she said.

A spokesper­son from the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Her­itage Pro­tec­tion, Queens­land, said it sup­ported the gi­ant wom­bat project as it would in­crease aware­ness of the en­dan­gered north­ern hairy-nosed wom­bat while pro­vid­ing a great tourism op­por­tu­nity for the town of Thal­lon.

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