A bid to stop a deadly disease ravaging our wombat population is the real reason our researchers cracked the wombat poo puzzle.
Who knew? There is a serious side to solving the wombat cubed poo puzzle.
The discovery, by the University of Tasmania and Georgia Tech, about how wombats have such unique shaped scats was so ‘out of the box’, it made world-wide news.
Then, last month it was awarded a satirical Ig Nobel Prize – an international award for research that makes people both laugh and think.
But University of Tasmania Senior Lecturer in Wildlife Ecology Dr Scott Carver said the finding began as an accidental discovery that occurred during research into a deadly disease decimating wombats.
Caused by a tiny mite that burrows into the marsupial’s skin, sarcoptic mange causes hair loss, skin thickening, an extreme immune response, and ultimately death.
The disease was introduced to Australia by European settlers and their domestic animals.
The impact of this fatal disease can have devastating consequences, with research revealing an outbreak in Tasmania’s Narawntapu National Park recently killed more than 95 per cent of the population.
University of Tasmania alumni, staff and students are leading the efforts to find sustainable and effective ways to manage and prevent outbreaks.
The University of Tasmania work has been partially funded through generous donations.
Dr Carver and his team made the surprise scat discovery during their dissections of diseased animals (euthanised by veterinarians).
Cube-shaped poos were thought to be ‘made’ during their exit from the animal’s body.
“We were amazed that the cubes formed in the soft intestines as far back as a metre from the anus,” Dr Carver said.
It is now known that the cubes are formed as they travel through the wombat’s distal colon, which has rigid and flexible sections capable of shaping the scats.
The plight of the wombat was also raised recently by Bondi Vet Dr Chris Brown, who fears that without more effective treatments, the disease will continue to be a major animal welfare issue that could also threaten the survival of populations of the species.
“Everyone loves wombats, they’re one of our most adored animals, yet for so long they’ve been suffering with this really awful and cruel disease,” Dr Brown said recently.
If you would like to support the University’s wombat research please donate here.
Image credit: Li Lai