A survey of local knowledge and attitudes regarding wombat conservation in Majors Creek, New South Wales

Abstract.

Attitudinal surveys have been of growing importance toward the conception of wildlife management strategies since the 1960s, as analysis of trends in individual and social attitudes is key in designing tools to reverse behaviours that are harmful to native flora and fauna (Miller, 2001). I was intrigued by Erin Roger, et al.’s suggestion (2007) that perceptions of commonness in the bare-nosed wombat, Vombatus ursinus, were “clouded by socio-political motives,” and was inspired to investigate the degree to which local knowledge of wombats and their conservation was correspondent with the “reality” reflected by population data in Majors Creek, New South Wales, a rural community historically dominated by the mining industry.

In accordance with a previously designed study operated by the Majors Creek Wombat Refuge, I conducted an observational survey of wombat burrow location and density at the Dargues Reef mine site, directly north of Majors Creek. I also conducted interviews and distributed surveys among the community, which I analysed for potential trends in the relationship between local knowledge and attitudes toward wombats. Population data for “common” species is difficult to come by, but I was able to tentatively conclude that the wombat population at Dargues Reef is small, though densely clustered within its range according to standard preferences in habitat selection. I found a positive correlation between residents with negative attitudes toward wombats and those who thought they existed at pest levels in Majors Creek, and observed gaps in residents’ knowledge of the threats facing V. ursinus which may explain inaccurate perceptions about its population status. Overall, my findings seem to indicate a lack of basic knowledge in the community about wombat ecology, which may breed negative feelings toward the species and seems easily remedied through simple awareness initiatives. Particularly considering the relatively high degree of wombat-human interaction in the Majors Creek area, I would hypothesise that these gaps in knowledge are the consequence of a larger propensity to overlook wombats when emphasising the conservation of Australian native fauna.