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Australian animals: the wombat

We find out all we've ever wanted to know about the Australian wombat. 

By Jessica Wilkinson
Published 27 June, 2017

Did you know that a baby wombat is called a pinkie? That wombat poo is square? Or, that sadly, the life expectantly for a wombat in the wild is only 3-5 years of its 30-year lifespan? It’s because of the last point that Donna Stepan started Sleepy Burrows – a self-funded wombat sanctuary in New South Wales (by Lake George about 40 kilometres from Canberra). Donna rescues and raises injured and orphaned wombats and releases them back into the wild once they’re rehabilitated.  

Donna has dedicated her life to Sleepy Burrows for more than a decade, and was recently awarded an Order of Australia for service to animal welfare. In light of her recent accolade, we thought we’d ask Donna a few questions so you can find out a little bit more about the Australian wombat.

Meet Australia's wombats

Get to know Australia's wombats

Do wombats live in family groups?

"No, bare-nosed wombats (the common wombat) are solitary and don’t like to share their burrows. They will tolerate other wombats to a point but unlike their cousins, the Southern hairy-nosed wombat, bare-nosed wombats prefer their own space and burrow."

Would a wombat beat a dog in a digging race?

"Absolutely, wombat would win hands down while the dog was still sniffing the dirt!"

Do wombat burrows have several entrances?

"For the bare-nosed wombat, no, this is not common. They may have a separate entrance to escape out of if they are in danger however they normally have one main entrance to their burrow."

What shape is wombat poo?

"Square. Why? Because wombats have a veerrrryyyy long digestion process. As the food matter spends such a long time in the intestine, the by-products take on the same shape, i.e. rectangular/square shape so that when the wombat eventually does poo, their poo remains in this shape. This also enables wombats to poo on rocks, where the poo does not roll off, hence marking their ever important territory."

How long does a wombat live for?

"Sadly, in the wild wombats only have an average age of 3 - 5 years. In captivity, wombats can live up to 30 years of age."

What is a baby wombat called?

"A young wombat is called a wombat pinkie (when it is furless and in its mother's pouch) and then a wombat joey when fully furred."

How long do baby wombats live in the pouch for?

"Some mothers are more tolerant than others (just as in the human world) however most females will tolerate carrying their joeys until around three kilograms. As the mother wombat cannot get her joey out of the pouch, she will make sure from a point in time that it cannot get back in. Her pouch is a muscle so once the joey is out, the mother wombat has full control of whether the joey is allowed back in or not."

How fast can a wombat run to get away from danger?

"Up to 40 kilometres per hour - faster than any human can ever run. Wombats are fast!"

What is the wombat’s main predator?

"Humans. Through humans, wombats are losing their habitat, plus vehicles which leave many wombats orphaned each year. Wombats are also contracting mange from foxes which is killing them at a rate which will ensure they become critically endangered within 20 years."

Are wombats found all across Australia or are they only unique to certain parts of Australia?

"Sadly, wombats have disappeared from certain areas due to hunting. Wombats are found in specific areas of Australia but these are dwindling each year."

How many different species of wombats are there?

"There are three types; Southern hairy-nosed wombat, bare-nosed wombat and the Northern hairy-nosed wombat."

Can you keep a wombat as a pet?

"No. Not only is it illegal, it's just not a good idea. Wombats are one of the strongest animals to encounter and when stifled in their development to be a wombat (i.e. being confined to a house or human hours and traits), this leads to high levels of aggression and frustration which always ends in disaster for all parties."

Where can you see wombats in the wild?

"Across New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria."

Can you approach a wombat in the wild? Are they friendly to humans? 

"The best way to observe wombats in the wild is from a distance with a camera. Wombats are shy by nature but if cornered can do very serious damage, like any wild animal if it believes it is in danger. Wombats should not be approached in the wild at all, not by humans or dogs especially. They should be left alone and only dealt with by people who know how to handle a wombat if it needs to be caught due to injury or illness."