Conservationists are desperately trying to rescue southern hairy-nosed wombats they say farmers in South Australia have buried alive.
The ABC’s Stateline program has been on hand as the conservationists work to dig the wombats out.
In the eastern Mount Lofty Ranges near Adelaide, conservationists say up to 10 wombats may have been buried alive by farmers’ ploughing near Cambrai and Sedan in recent days.
One has been rescued so far.
Bob Irwin, from the group Wildlife Conservation Projects, says the wombats would face an agonising death.
“If they just bury the wombats then the wombats are going to die slowly over a period of weeks from lack of air and you know that’s a very sad situation,” he said.
The quest to save the wombats has brought Mr Irwin, father of the late conservationist Steve Irwin, on a 2,000-kilometre trip from his home in Queensland.
Farmers have long argued that wombat burrows destroy their land and can damage farm machinery.
But conservationists want the South Australian Government to help farmers learn to live with the animals.
Brigitte Stevens of the Wombat Awareness Campaign fears for the survival of the species.
“You can’t have an animal that has got so many threats to it … sustain and flourish in that environment,” she said.
Russell Jarman of the RSPCA says it cannot act against the farmers unless there is evidence of cruelty.
“If we found any trapped or killed as a result of these actions then obviously we’d look at opening an investigation as to if there’s anyone to be held accountable for those actions,” he said.
South Australia’s Department for Environment and Heritage says the southern hairy-nosed wombat is protected, but farmers can apply for destruction permits.
It is investigating to see if any laws have been breached.