Taronga is celebrating breeding the Zoo’s first Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat in 30 years, unlocking secrets which could also help their critically endangered wild cousins.
The female joey which recently emerged from its mother, ‘Korra’s pouch, is a triumph for the Zoo’s endeavours for the species which until recently were thought to be extinct in NSW and notoriously hard to breed in captivity.
Keeper, Samantha Elton said: “We’ve been trying to breed a new generation since 2002, and have seen lots and lots of matings, but until this year hadn’t had any success.”
“This year, we tried a few different approaches and obviously hit on a winning combination of factors, “said Samantha.
“Unlike in past years we decided this time to leave the male in with the females for the whole year. We took a “hands-off” approach and also provided them with new soil to let them create their own burrows.”
“We hoped that male, ‘Noojee’, would breed this year, so we also added a healthy dose of competition by placing another male in the dens right alongside him.”
“Mother nature may have also played a part, with high rainfall and unseasonably low temperatures recorded during December, and it appears that just like humans, wombats also favour certain individuals, so compatibility certainly played a role ,” said Samantha.
Little is known about the development of wombat pouch young, however Korra is very relaxed in her environment, often sleeping on her back, giving Taronga Keepers the unique opportunity to monitor and measure the joey.
“This has provided invaluable information. We were very lucky to have been able to check on the joey from when it measured just 6 cm and was still hairless,” said Samantha.
The joey has been named ‘Turra’ which means shadow/shade from the Aboriginal Kaurna language group.
Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat numbers in the wild are in decline with loss of habitat, road deaths, drought, competition for food from introduced species and more recently the debilitating infestation, Sarcoptic Mange. Information gained from zoo breeding programs is crucial in ensuring the survival of this species.
The birth could also have a significant impact on efforts to arrest the decline of Australia’s most endangered mammal species, the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat.
Dr. Rebecca Spindler, Manager of Taronga’s Conservation and Research Centre, said: “Southern-hairy Nosed Wombats are close relatives of their critically endangered Northern counterparts, which used to be found from NSW to Queensland, with fossils even found as far south as Victoria. Now there’s just 115 animals in just one small area in central Queensland,” said Dr. Spindler.
“If we can perfect and apply what we learnt from our breeding program here to Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats, the ramifications for this critically endangered species could be immense.”
There are three species of wombats, the Common, Southern Hairy-nosed and critically endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. Vehicle fatalities, farming and competition for food from introduced species like rabbits have affected wild populations.