There are three species of Wombat in Australia, the Common, Southern Hairy-nosed and Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats. The Southern and Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats are distinguished from the Common Wombat by their silky fur, long ears and furry muzzles.
The coat of the Southern Hairy-nosed wombat is silver-grey or mottled brown on the back, and pale grey on the belly. The head is broad and flat, with narrow, pointy ears and small eyes. The bridge of the wombat’s nose is covered with white or brown hair. The limbs are short, with small toes and flattened claws. The second and the third toes of the hind leg are fused with a double claw that the wombat uses for grooming.
The Southern Hairy-nosed wombat is 77-94cm in length, its height is 25-35cm and it weighs 19-32kg. Under the skin at the back fo their bodies, all wombats have a hard plate-like shield of cartilage which protects them should a predator try to follow them into their burrow and attack them from behind.
The Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat is fairly common, but its habitat is limited. Human colonisation and agricultural activity have contributed to the loss of habitat. Cattle not only compete with the wombat for grass, they also collapse burrows when they rest on them. The European rabbit is also a competitor and during times of drought, a lack of vegetation often results in a decline in the wombat population.
Whilst the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat is fairly common there is a need to reduce inbreeding among York Peninsula populations, probably though translocation and the introduction of wombats from zoo-based programs such as the one at Taronga Zoo.
Through Taronga Zoo’s Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat conservation breeding program we will be able to learn more about the social, reproductive and breeding behaviours that are similar to the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat which is critically endangered with only 150 left in the wild.
Distribution & Habitat
The Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat is only found in Australia, across southern South Australia, west of the Murray River, and patchily distributed on the York Peninsula and Eyre Peninsula. It’s also present across the Nullarbor Plain into Western Australia and there are two colonies in New South Wales. Its range may have expanded in the last 45 years. Their specific habitat is arid and semi-arid woodlands and shrub lands. They live in deep burrows that have several entrances. The burrows are clustered to form a large, central warren, with a number of smaller warrens surrounding it. Up to 10 wombats can occupy each warren.
Southern Hairy-nosed Wombats usually breed between September and December. The males become more aggressive when the breeding season begins. After mating, and a gestation period of about 21 days a single, small joey is born, and it attaches itself to a teat in the mother’s pouch for six to nine months. Weaning occurs at approximately one year and joeys are mature at three years.
Diet & Behaviour
The Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat is a herbivore, eating grasses and plants. It gets most of its moisture from dew on the grass. In times of drought the wombat conserves water by producing very small quantities of urine and dry faecal pellets. It will also rest during the day in a humid burrow, allowing its body temperature to fall, thereby conserving both water and energy.
Although this animal appears to be slow, it is exceedingly alert to the slightest sound or unusual scent and, when disturbed, can bound as fast as 40 km an hour over short distances.