Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 48 – The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat

Northern hairy-nosed wombat

Source: Unknown

Who could possibly look at the face of this gentle, adorable creature without wanting to save it from extinction.  Thankfully, multitudes of caring, giving and conscientious people want to do just that.  But, a near-extinct wombat – who would have thought!

And, it is by no means delicate in build.  In fact, they are built like small tanks.  Which is probably what is so appealing about them.  They have broad heads, short, stocky legs and can measure over forty inches from nose to tail.  They only grow up to fourteen inches in height, but weigh in, on average, at seventy pounds.  These amazing little marsupials are solid.  On top of that, the females have an extra layer of fat making them even heavier. They have soft grey/brown fur on their bodies and all over their noses, hence the name, pointed ears and very short tails.  There are three species of wombat: the northern hairy-nosed wombat, the southern hairy-nosed wombat and the common wombat. The northern hairy-nosed wombat is the largest of all three.  Wombats are marsupials, meaning they carry and nurse their young in a pouch.

The northern hairy-nosed wombat is nocturnal.  Although usually solitary, wombats sometimes share burrows.  They have teeth which continue to grow all their lives, allowing them to continue to grind food when they are old.  They are extremely near-sighted, but have a highly developed sense of smell.  Known as the ‘engineers’ of the mammal world, they are capable of digging burrows up to 90 metres long. Each burrow has several entrances, is well-ventilated and maintains a constant temperature all year round.  Wombats cannot survive above ground for long periods, so their burrows are of the utmost importance to them.

Little is known about the mating habits of the species, but following a gestation period of roughly twenty-one days, most young will born in the summer (the wet season), between November and April.  Only one baby is ever born at a time. The baby (joey) will stay in the mother’s pouch until it is nine months old.  Interesting fact: all baby marsupials are called joeys.

It is said in many places, the northern hairy-nosed wombat is the rarest marsupial in the world.  I beg to differ here, I think Gilbert’s potoroo is.  But, I am sure this little wombat cannot be far behind.  Whatever the dubious honour, as with all endangered species, it would be a terrible shame to lose this beautiful, docile animal.

Semi-arid grasslands offering deep, sandy soil for excavating burrows.
Epping Forest National Park – central Queensland and St George in southern inland Queensland.
What they eat
Various coarse grasses, including African buffel grass, and roots.  African buffel grass, introduced and favoured by the cattle industry, has taken over the native grasses on which the wombat prefers to feed.
Pasture competition from cattle, prolonged drought, wildfire, disease (such as toxoplasmosis or mange) and dingoes. Due to small population numbers, and all animals originally being confined to the same location in central Queensland, the northern hairy-nosed wombat could have been extirpated by any of these threats, or any other unforeseen natural disasters.  It was a bit like the Board of Directors of a large company travelling on the same plane at the same time. But, all that has now started to change with the founding of a second site in southern Queensland (2009). This reserve has a predator proof fence surrounding it to keep out the dingoes as well. The same overall threats still exist, but now the future is looking better, and new babies are expected in mid 2014.
Status: Critically Endangered
The northern hairy-nosed wombat  (Lasiorhinus krefftii)   is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered. Through extreme vigilance, numbers have increased from thirty to forty individuals in the early 1980s to an estimated two hundred today.  People and organisations all over Australia, who clearly adore the wombat, are helping to protect and maintain the species.  “Re-wilding” has been introduced (re-introduction to old habitats) and scientists believe the northern hairy-nosed wombat may have a future. Let us hope they are right.

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty”
Albert Einstein

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