Seven dead wombats have been removed from a South Australian property amid allegations that more than 40 of the Australian marsupials may have been buried alive.
South Australia's Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) is investigating "allegations of wombat mistreatment" but did not believe any of the animals were trapped underground.
The claims have surfaced after a member of the public reported that a network of warrens had been destroyed.
Brigitte Stevens, founder of the Wombat Awareness Association, told HuffPost Australia that she counted at least 30 of the dead animals being removed by Parks and Wildlife officers on Wednesday.
According to Stevens, groups of up to 40 could have been living in the warrens at the time of their alleged destruction.
According to a report by the South Australian government, while the Southern Hairy-nose wombat can create significant and costly damage to agricultural landscapes, their destruction can often be counter-productive, as any gaps created by their culling are often re-filled.
Despite being listed as a protected species, land managers are able to obtain a permit for the destruction of any wombats that "are causing environmental or economic damage to property or land".
The maximum penalty for destroying a Southern Hairy-nose wombat in South Australia without a permit is $2,500 or 6 months imprisonment, with the court's jurisdiction to impose additional penalties if more than one animal is involved.