The species being discussed today hails all the way from Australia! I originally was going to write about a different animal but then I saw a Facebook video this morning about an animal sanctuary that featured some endemic, endangered animals like the Tasmanian devil and realized the wombat would be cooler to talk about. There are three main types of wombats. The common wombat, the northern hairy-nosed wombat and the southern hairy-nosed wombat. The common wombat occupies coastal areas while the northern and southern wombats prefer much a much drier habitat so are found inland. Northern hairy-nosed wombats are the biggest of the three species weighing in at about 32 kg (70 lbs) while the southern hairy-nosed wombat weighs the least amount; 26 kg (57 lbs). They have a bit of a stocky build with large paws and claws that allow them to build burrows that they stay in most of the time. When they walk, their bodies kind of sway from side to side because of their bulk but they are quite fast; averaging about 40 km/hr (about 24 mph) over short distances.
As I mentioned before, this species is endemic to Australia. This means you will not find it in the wild anywhere else in the world. Fossil records show that the species range used to be from south central New South Wales and central Queensland. It’s now restricted to Epping Forest National Park. Northern hairy-nosed wombats are 100% herbivores. Grass is their primary source of food so they burrow in areas of this forest where there is a year round supply. This species is very shy and nocturnal. They have extensive burrows usually starting at the base of native bauhina trees where they scent mark the entrances with dung or urine. The temperature of the burrows varies depending on the season. In summer, burrow temperatures can reach as high as 82ºF (28ºC) and in winter as low as 53ºF (12ºC). Breeding occurs in the summer months, or the wet season, which occurs from November to April. Females are sexually mature around 2.5 to 3 years and will carry offspring in their pouch for eight or nine months.
Northern hairy-nosed wombats have been endangered since 1982. At one time in the early 1920’s, it was thought the species was extinct but it was discovered again in the 1930’s. In 1982 when the species was declared endangered, a consensus showed there was only about 30 individuals left in the wild. By the 1960’s, a capture and release program was implemented to count the number of individuals and this showed that the number had increased to 63. However, the capture and release program was extremely stressful on the species so conservationists changed methods and would use tape to collect hair samples at burrows and run DNA tests instead. By 2000, the species count had grown to 113 and by 2010 it was up to 163. At last count in 2016, it was estimated that there are a total of 240 Northern hairy-nosed wombats in Epping Forest National Park.
Even though population numbers have been on the rise, the species is still listed as critically endangered. The major threat to this species is habitat destruction and disruption from cattle farming. There are also natural threats such as drought, wildfires and predation. Their genetic pool is also very low which makes them easily prone to diseases. Conservation efforts have been implemented for many years. There is a predator proof fence in Epping Forest National Park and continued monitoring and research of the wombats is ongoing. There are also fire management protocols as well as weed management. Because this small population is so critical, and one natural disaster can wipe out the entire population, conservationists have relocated a few individuals to Richard Underwood Natural Refuge where they monitor the population and manage predators hoping the Northern hairy-nosed wombat will thrive here as well.