Weaning

Between 12 and 15 months after birth, the young wombat is weaned, the mother's milk supply gradually dwindling as the young eats more grass while needing less and less milk. The bond between mother and young usually remains strong and often continues for several more months (Figure 6.8). Mothers with older young at heel generally seem to pay their young little attention and it is probably the responsibility of the young to check on their mother's whereabouts (see Figure 6.9 and Plate 19).

An example of extraordinary maternal care was observed by Garry Smith and eight skiing companions in the Kosciuszko National Park: a wombat walking across the snow with her baby taking a ride on her back

Figure 6.8 The bond between mother and young remains strong.

(see Plate 20). When the mother reached a patch of grass the young wombat climbed down and fed alongside her; after feeding, it climbed back on to the mother's back and was carried off across the snow! It seems that this young wombat had found the easy way of travelling in the snow, even although it was not particularly soft as the mother only sank a maximum of about 10 centimetres in the softest sections. As far as I am aware this behaviour has not been previously recorded; any other sightings of wombats with 'back young' would be of great interest.

The time taken to attain independence varies considerably. One young male was still at his mother's heels nearly 11 months after weaning, but in some cases the association is broken soon after weaning.

Figure 6.9 It seems to be up to the young at heel to keep in contact with its mother.

As the young wombat makes the transition from pouch life to independence, its digestive system has to adapt from a diet of low-lactose milk to one of high-fibre grasses. By the time it is weaned, the wombat's digestive system, from one end to the other, is adapted to processing the coarse grasses that now constitute the major part of its food.

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