Wednesday, May 22, 2013

W (1) is for WOMBAT

I am sorry if this is a rather long post but the wombat is very special to we Aussies.

W is for the WOMBAT which are widespread and a favourite animal unless of course you happen to hit one in your car at night on a country road.  They are the size of a pig and very solidly built.

The name wombat comes from the now nearly extinct Darug language spoken by the aboriginal Darug people who originally inhabited the Sydney area.  It was first recorded in 1798 when John Price and James Wilson, a white man who had adopted aboriginal ways, visited the area of what is now Bargo, in New South Wales.  Price wrote "We saw several types of dung from different animals, one of which was called a Whom-batt, which is an animal about 20 inches high with short legs and a thick body with a large head, round ears, and very small eyes; it is very fat and has much the appearance of a badger.  Wombats were often called badgers by early settlers because of their size and habit.  Because of this, localities such as Badger Creek, Victoria, and Badger Corner, Tasmania, were named after the wombat. The spelling went through many variants over the years, including "Wambat", "Whombat", "Womat", "Wombach", and "Wombac", possibly reflecting dialectal differences in the Darug language.

1. The common wombat (Vombatus ursinus) lives in burrows in the forest and bushland areas of Australia in Tasmania, Eastern Victoria, and along the eastern ranges in New South Wales to Queensland.  It has very strong claws and muscular thick legs to help in its digging.  It has no natural enemies and can even survive smaller bush fires in its underground burrow.  There are three main varieties of wombat: the common wombat, the Southern Hairy nosed wombat and the Northern hairy nosed wombat.  The latter is very nearly extinct.  (see descriptions below).

In the winter in colder areas they move more slowly, and in snow covered areas will seek out the grass that is found a the base of snow gums.  They waddle slowly through deep snow until they get to the tree and can have a feed of grass.

Their diet is herbivorous and consists of roots, shoots and leaves.  They emerge in late afternoon for scavenging in the evening and throughout the night.  During the day they return to their burrows and go to sleep sometimes lying on their backs with their four feet sticking up in the air!

They actually make nice little pets that can life under the house, although they are not compatible with gardens. These wild animals are also not afraid of humans, and have often been found in national park camping grounds living in the bushes next to campsites.

Female wombats give birth to a single young in the spring, after a gestation period, which like all marsupials can vary; in the case of the wombat 20-21 days.  They have well developed pouches, which the young leave after aboutt

2. The Southern Hairy Nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons) is similar in size to Common Wombats, but have softer, silkier, grey fur, long ears and a much broader nose. Females (like all wombat species) have a backward-facing pouch.  They are found in southern South Australia and south-east Western Australia on semi-arid grass plains.

One of the biggest threats to this species of wombat is mange, which is caused by a mite.  This causes terrible skin conditions and eventual death of the animals.  Wombats are also threatened by habitat destruction and being hit by cars.

Perth Zoo houses two Southern Hairy Nosed Wombats in the Australian Bushwalk.  By breeding this species valuable information on successful wombat reproduction and husbandry techniques is gained to assist the recovery team's work with its critically endangered cousin, the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat.

3. The Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat is an endangered species and bringing a species back from the brink of extinction is never easy.  Typically, it takes long-term commitment, amounting to lifetimes of hard work by dedicated scientists, managers and supporters.  That is especially true if the species if a big animal with a low breeding ratem because such species respond slowly to all efforts.  No species of Australian wildlife better illustrates these points than the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat.

This is the largest of Australia's three wombat species; females can weigh over 40kg.  It is distinguished from the Southern Hairy Nosed Wombat by its broad muzzle and black eye-rings as well are large size. and from the Common Wombat by its silky grey fur, long ears and (of course) hairy nose.

Early in the 20th century it was thought that the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat was extinct, after the disappearance of the only two then known populations in southern Queensland and New South Wales  Then, in the 1930s, a small population was discovered in what is now Epping Forest National Park in central Queensland.  This population was in decline and, by 1982, there may have only been 30 or so animals left.

In 2000, the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat became the first species to be censused from remotely collected genetic samples.  The estimated population size was 113.  The latest census in 2010 found 163 wombats.  This is still a small number but represents as much as a four-fold increase in the population since its habitat was protected.  The animals live in a dry tropical environment, where most rain falls in an unreliable summer wet season.  Several good wet seasons in succession may be needed for females to breed and for their young to survive to weaning.  It might be only in periods like the last few years, with three excellent wet seasons in a row, that the population increases.  Evidence from remote camera and footprints suggests that many young have been born recently.

We can only hope that all the wombats survive and particularly this one.  There is a lot more information available about the work being done to help its survival if anyone is interested in checking it out.  Too much for me to add here but all of it extremely interesting.


  1. I have a soft spot for Wombats and we often buy 'Wombat Calendars' which are used as a fund-raiser to assist in conservation efforts.
    They do indeed wreak havoc in a garden, and if you hit one in a car you will know about it, though sadly the wombat often doesn't survive.

  2. That daughter of mine has a very special soft spot for wombats and I too think they are gorgeous. I have only seen them at a local wildlife park and am fascinated by them. I've not seen a 'wombat calendar' but then they are probably only available in the eastern states.
    As with so many of our native animals, many die as a result of being hit by motor vehicles or perhaps die an agonising death somewhere in the bush. Cars can be repaired altho' sometimes drivers/passengers can be injured as a result of those collisions.