QUT researchers use design to save wildlife

17th September 2020

Thanks to the generosity of #QUTGivingDay donors in 2018 and 2019, QUT researchers have partnered with Australia’s largest orphanage and sanctuary for bare-nosed wombats, Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary, to create an Australian-first quarantine hospital burrow specifically designed to ease the treatment administration of sarcoptic mange in bare-nosed wombats.

Sarcoptic mange is caused by microscopic mites that bury down into the wombat’s skin, making them itch uncontrollably, causing their skin to crack, bleed and crust, with their eyes and ears often closing over. When left untreated, the contagious disease results in a painful death for wombats. The disease has reached catastrophic proportions, causing mass decline of at least 70% of bare-nosed wombats in Australia.

Project lead, Professor Marcus Foth, explained 2020 has been a slower year for researchers involved in the project because of drought, summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the bare-nosed wombat is not listed as a threatened species yet, it soon will be due to sarcoptic mange and government inaction,” said Professor Foth.

“We have been working behind the scenes, and my colleague Dr Leo Rezayan has used photos and measurements of the wombat hospital prototype to produce a 3D model and very simple construction plan that can easily be replicated and is very cost-effective.”

Dr Leo Rezayan is a lecturer in Interaction Design within the Creative Industries Faculty, and said it was his role to design the quarantine hospital. He explained the co-design study aimed to document and evaluate a new treatment procedure and the impact of its application on wombats in the specially-designed hospital burrow.

Miniature model of the quarantine hospital burrow to treat sarcoptic mange in bare-nosed wombats

“By administering an alternative oral treatment rather than conventional topical treatment, Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary has had repeated success with wombats in quarantined care,” said Dr Rezayan.

“This approach significantly decreases treatment time, and wombats continually recover fully from the disease.”

The QUT design-led research team hopes to prepare for large-scale deployment to design the quarantine hospitals and distribute technical drawings and DIY instructions to wildlife sanctuaries across Australia.

Support QUT’s efforts in protecting Australia's bare-nosed wombat population

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