Access wombat resources from your library or resource centre.
- “The secret world of wombats” by Jackie French provides an excellent and entertaining source for all things wombat.
- “The wombat who talked to the stars” by Jill Morris is an excellent source for the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats.
Access comprehensive wombat sites for in-depth information:
- The Wombat Foundation: www.wombatfoundation.com.au
- Queensland Dept of Environment and Resource Management http://www.derm.qld.gov.au/wildlife-ecosystems/wildlife/threatened_plants_and_animals/endangered/northern_hairynosed_wombat/
- Arkive: http://www.arkive.org/northern-hairy-nosed-wombat/lasiorhinus-krefftii/ and ‘view all’
General Information about Wombats
Wombat is the common name for three species of burrowing marsupials. They are one of the world’s largest burrowing animals, amongst the largest marsupials and are the largest herbivorous burrowing mammal. They are pouched mammals like kangaroos, possums and their closest relative, the koala.
Wombats have long claws and very short, stocky limbs that are adapted for digging and they live in burrows from which they emerge at night to feed. Wombats have a backwards facing pouch. This is to stop dirt entering the pouch when the mother is digging.
While their eyesight is poor, wombats have a keen sense of smell, excellent hearing and very large brains.
Wombats sleep most of the daylight hours, to conserve energy and water which aids survival. Healthy wombats in the wild might live fifteen to twenty years.
History and Evolution
Diprotodon optatum once roamed all over Australia. Diprotodon meaning ‘two forward teeth’, sometimes known as the Rhinoceros Wombat, was the largest known marsupial that ever lived. Their closest living relatives are koalas and wombats. Diprotodons, with other large animals, became extinct after humans came to Australia about 50,000 years ago. The smaller relatives of Diprotodons, our modern wombats, Vombatus and Lasiorhinus, survived but their numbers decreased as the climate changed over a long period and the country became drier. Numbers dropped dramatically with Europeans hunting, introducing diseases and animals such as rabbits, and habitat alteration for introduced sheep and cattle.
There are three species of wombat: the critically endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, the vulnerable Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat and the Bare-nosed Wombat, also known as the Common Wombat.
Wombats have short, squat bodies with powerful shoulders, muscular legs and a bony rump. Northern-Hairy-nosed Wombats are the largest, more than a metre long and weighing on average 32kg (31 males; 31.9 females). Bare-nosed Wombats are on average 90cm long and 30kg (22-39 males; 26 females) in weight. Southern Hairy-nosed Wombats are the smallest and weigh on average 26kg (19-36 males; 17.5-36 females).
The Hairy-nosed Wombats have broad, rounded and flat snouts and the Bare-nosed Wombat has a small, bare button- like nose.
Wombat fur comes in shades from soft mainly brown for Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats, soft grey browns for the Southern and coarse yellow to brown to black fur for the Bare-nosed Wombats.
Location and Habitat
Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats live in Queensland near Clermont and St George in semi-arid grasslands on sandy soils. Bare-nosed Wombats are found towards the coast from the Queensland border to Tasmania and into South Australia in hilly forest country. Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombats live in southern South Australia across into Western Australia in arid areas.
Wombats’ burrows range from two metres long up to 30 metres long and up to four metres deep. Some Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat burrows are up to 100 metres long and have been in use for 100 years. Large, complex burrows have multiple entrances.
Deep burrows provide protection against extreme climatic conditions where the above ground temperature ranges between sub-zero in winter to more than 40o C in summer. The even temperatures in the burrows help wombats conserve energy and the higher humidities mean that wombats lose less water while breathing.
Wombats mostly eat grass. Their teeth continue to grow all their lives. They have extraordinarily slow metabolism, taking around eight to fourteen days to complete digestion that aids their survival in arid locations. Wombats usually drink at dusk although in some areas may get enough moisture from dew and grasses.
Northern and Southern Hairy-nosed Wombats give birth mostly in summer while the Bare-nosed Wombats vary depending on latitude and longitude and give birth throughout the year. One joey is born at a time, mostly every two years after a gestation of 20 – 22 days. At birth they are very small, two grams in weight and two cm long. As soon as it is born the joey crawls into the mother’s pouch and will stay in the pouch for eight – nine months. They leave their mothers from one – two years.
Dangers for Wombats include: destruction of their natural habitat, predators such as dingoes and humans, parasite infection (mange), floods, fire, drought, competition for land and food, and for the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat their small population size.
Legislation and Protection
Australia’s states and territories have legislation about wombats and some are different to the “Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999”.
Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat
Endangered in Queensland under the “Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992”.
Endangered nationally under the “Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999”.
Critically Endangered internationally under the “World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species”, which lists species at a global level.
Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat
Endangered in New South Wales under the “Threatened Species Conservation Act” (Part 1, Schedule 1).
Protected in South Australia under the “National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972” BUT allows shooting of wombats by permit. The Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat is South Australia’s fauna emblem.
Protected in Western Australia under the “Wildlife Conservation Act 1950”.
Protected under New South Wales “National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974” but allows destruction permits.
Protected under the “Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999”.
Victorian “Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994” allows species which cause harm to the rural economy to be classed as pests.
Protected in South Australia under the “National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972” but allows shooting of wombats by permit.
Vulnerable (Bass Strait Bare-nosed Wombat) in Tasmania under the “Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999”.
Future sustainability and conservation
Ways to improve the Australian community’s attitudes towards wombats include: talking to people and learning their perspective; respecting their viewpoint and opinion; working to resolve problems and issues in a positive manner; supporting organizations such as The Wombat Foundation; educating the public on why wombats are not pests; providing information and education, and supporting those who are caring for and researching wombats.
Management and protection for the sustainability of wombats needs: control of predators and competitors for land and food; fire management; research; pasture improvement and reintroduction of native grasses; reduced land clearing; removal of permits to kill wombats on farming lands; weed control; maintenance of predator-proof fences for the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats; legislation to protect wombats and their habitats; establishment of new populations; community support; public education and advocacy.
“The secret world of wombats” by Jackie French lists a range of activities (p152) to help sustain and conserve wombats.
With effective conservation, management, protection and improved community attitudes, Wombats will remain as part of our heritage for future generations to enjoy.