Inspired by her childhood growing up on a property in Mangrove Mountain surrounded by wildlife, Roz Holme and her husband Kevin opened Cedar Creek Wombat Rescue and Hospital 14 years ago to focus on treating marsupials suffering from a slow-killing disease called mange.
Ms Holme says she has treated "literally thousands" of wombats just this year. The couple both work other jobs to fund the hospital and charity, which runs from their property in Cessnock around the clock.
"We know it's treatable so we just sort of persevere," she said.
"But it's pretty amazing, I remember how the wombats were sick, or injured or worse, and then we see them with joeys."
The 58-year-old said she had seen mange in wombats for at least the past three decades in NSW, however, the parasitic disease is thought to have been introduced to Australia during colonisation. She said awareness was growing about the disease as more wombats were killed by it. In NSW there is no hard data on the impact of mange, but in Tasmania 94 per cent of a wombat colony in the state's north was lost to the disease in 2017.
Ms Holme said she believed the prevalence of mange was improving in the Hunter Valley due to the number of groups treating it.
"It can be really devastating, one mite can lay 2000 to 3000 eggs then they burrow down to the epidermis layers and affect their skin. Wombats don't die due to the parasite, it's usually from pneumonia," Ms Holme said. "If left untreated, they do die."
Mange in wombats often comes to people's attention because the usually nocturnal creatures are seen foraging in the daytime, with scabby lesions and bald patches on their body.
"When they've got mange they can't seem to regulate their body temperature," Ms Holme said. "They feel cold so they come outside in the daytime to warm up."
Ms Holme teaches property owners how to treat mange, which can be eradicated in an adult wombat with weekly treatment for at least nine weeks. Ms Holme brings younger wombats into the hospital.
"Anything adult we leave because they get stressed and die if you bring them in. We will do the treatments in the field ourselves and land-owners can always contact me, 24 hours a day," she said.
If you see a wombat you think has the disease, she said not to approach it, and call 1300 094 737.
"You can't touch anything with mange because you will get it and wombats can be aggressive, I've had my shin ripped open. They really do hurt," she said.
The couple's goal is to eradicate mange in the area.
"That's our aim: to clean up the whole of the valley."
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here.
IN NEWS TODAY: