Archive for January 14th, 2020

The Wombat

This recent photo of a wombat rescued in Australian fires has went viral on social media over the past few days along with a story that the creatures were seen shepherding other animals into their vast burrows to avoid the firestorm. Unfortunately, the shepherding part has been ruled out as wombats are extremely short-sighted, their vision focusing on finding available food immediately in front of them.

It was simply a baseless but hopeful rumor.

But while the shepherding behavior has not been witnessed, the sharing of the burrow has been noted in a number of cases. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s like a scene from the Fantastic Mr. Fox down there. The animals are not having dinner parties and passing around canapes while their wombat host makes toasts. Most likely, it is the sheer size of the burrows that allows a diverse group of animals to share them without infringing on each other’s space too much. They often cover areas stretching well over 300 feet in length with multiple entrances and enough depth and ventilation to shield a large number of critters.

The wombat host may not even have to see his guests. Sounds like a perfect situation.

But the thing that most people comment on is the sheer size of the wombat in the photo, some thinking it is a doctored image. I had no idea of the size of a wombat. I thought they were like the size of a Corgi, small and stout. Maybe twenty or twenty five pounds.

Nope, they are fairly big, coming in at between 45 and 77 pounds on average. That’s an armful.

Another Couple of interesting wombat facts:

While they are generally slow moving, they can scoot along at about 25 mph when threatened. That is surprisingly fast. It reminds me of the first time I saw our late and beloved Jemma, a rescued Corgi, take off running. Again, surprisingly fast.

Their poop comes out in the shape of cubes. Yes, in cubes. Think about that.

Their rear ends are very tough (probably from creating those cubes!) being comprised mainly of cartilage. They use their rumps as defensive shields against their predators, so that when retreating to a tunnel it is the only part of them that is exposed. They will sometimes allow a predator to force its head above the wombat’s back then crush it against the tunnel walls with their powerful legs. Or they use those same powerful legs to donkey kick at it.

They live until about 15 years of age in the wild and from 20-30 years in captivity.

A group of them is called a wisdom. A wisdom of wombats. What a lovely sound.

They are pretty fascinating creatures. Unfortunately, their world and, by extension, the wombat itself, is in jeopardy from the devastating fires that are ravaging Australia.

Like I wrote the other day, we can’t do much by ourselves, a half a world away. But we can try. I am going to be putting a painting up for auction within the next day with all proceeds going to WIRES, a well respected Australian wildlife rescue organization that is doing yeoman’s work during this fire. There is much to be done to rescue and rehabilitate the affected animals but even more to be done in providing them a world –food, water and shelter– in which they can thrive in the aftermath.

Keep an eye out for the auction.


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