Wombats

SECOND EDITION

BARBARA TRIGGS

CSIRO

PUBLISHING

© Barbara Triggs 2009

All rights reserved. Except under the conditions described in the Australian Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, duplicating or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. Contact CSIRO PUBLISHING for all permission requests.

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry

Triggs, Barbara. Wombats / Barbara Triggs.

2nd ed.

9780643096011 (pbk.)

Includes index. Bibliography.

Wombats.

599.24

Published by

CSIRO PUBLISHING

150 Oxford Street (PO Box 1139)

Collingwood VIC 3066

Australia

Telephone: +61 3 9662 7666

Local call: 1300 788 000 (Australia only)

Fax: +61 3 9662 7555

Email: [email protected]

Web site: www.publish.csiro.au

Front cover

Bare-nosed wombat. Photo © Dave Watts. Back cover

Northern hairy-nosed wombat (left) and southern hairy-nosed wombat (right). Photos © Dave Watts.

Set in 10.5/14 Adobe Palatino, Optima and Stone Sans

Edited by Janet Walker

Cover and text design by James Kelly

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CSIRO PUBLISHING publishes and distributes scientific, technical and health science books, magazines and journals from Australia to a worldwide audience and conducts these activities autonomously from the research activities of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of, and should not be attributed to, the publisher or CSIRO.

CONTENTS

Preface iv

1 Evolution and early history 1

2 The wombat itself 13

3 Burrows 21

4 What goes on in a burrow? 35

5 Life above ground 41

6 From birth to maturity 69

7 Dangers, disorders and disasters 99

8 Wombats in the wardrobe 123 Appendix 1: Growth and development 133 Appendix 2: Hand-rearing orphan wombats 134 References and further reading 141 Index 151

PREFACE

When the revised edition of The Wombat was published in 1996 I bemoaned the fact that wombats were the 'poor relations' when it comes to scientific research. Thankfully, this has been rectified to a certain extent and much more is now known about the secret lives of the three species of wombats. In this book I have tried to include this new information. Much of the text deals with the bare-nosed wombat but wherever possible I have added information on the two hairy-nosed species.

Early in my investigations in the 1970s I discovered that wombats are not easy animals to study. Much of their lives are spent underground, and even when they are active above ground it is usually dark or nearly so. They are also extremely wary and have an excellent sense of smell and acute hearing, but I found that if I stood absolutely still, downwind, they would be unaware of my presence. Following them through the forest undergrowth so that I was close enough to see what they were doing required much patience and stealth and was often unsuccessful. There is also considerable difficulty in observing social interactions between animals that spend most of their time either alone or deliberately avoiding one another.

Field studies of mammals, particularly nocturnal ones, are usually carried out by first catching or trapping the animals and tagging them in some way, so that individuals can be recognised at a distance or when retrapped. Radio-collars or similar devices are often attached to some of the animals and their movements monitored by radio-tracking. Much of the information about wombats has been gathered in this way, and, more recently, by remote censusing, which involves genetic research.

Not having the resources or the expertise needed to obtain and use any of these methods in my studies of wombats, I relied on knowing the wombats so well that I could identify them, even in poor light. This is surprisingly easy - every wombat has enough individual characteristics that can be used to distinguish it from any other wombat, such as coat colour, scars on various parts of the body, size and face shape. It is also often possible to determine the sex of a wombat without having to trap it. Females with large pouch young or young at heel are easily identified, while males can usually be spotted when they sit down to scratch, as the large scrotum is often visible at that time. The occasional use of night-vision equipment and, more often, a red-light torch, helped my observations and I recorded the wombats' movements and behaviour on simple check sheets and a tape-recorder.

My method had, and still has, many drawbacks. Following an animal in the forest at night is sometimes hazardous and often uncomfortable, but it is also deeply satisfying. There is a special thrill, a kind of magic, about watching animals in the wild when they are unaware of our presence or are indifferent to it. In the 1990s I visited an area in northern Tasmania where the wombats are often out and about in daylight and I have returned there many times. Watching them there is pure delight. The Narawntapu National Park is a place every wombat-lover should visit.

Although much had been learned about wombats, there are still many aspects of their natural history that are not known or understood. This book is my attempt to record the information that has been published by many well-qualified researchers, as well as what I have managed to find out about them.

A great many people have helped me to write this book and its earlier version, and in the study of wombats over the last 30 years. It would be impossible to list all of them here, but I wish to thank them all. There are some to whom I am especially indebted for allowing me to draw on their work, both published and unpublished, and for critically reading the manuscript or parts of it for the earlier edition, especially John McIlroy, Graham Brown, Rod Wells, Bob Green, the late John Seebeck and Paul Presidente. In gathering material for this book I have had valuable input from Alan Horsup and Rod Wells and I thank them both for their help.

Many others have assisted me with ideas, criticism and encouragement, have provided access to wombats, information on development of young, data for the distribution maps, reference papers, identification of plant and scat material, and helped in many other ways. I also wish to thank all those who provided photographs, not only those who have been acknowledged in the relevant captions but also those whose photographs I was unable to use but which provided me with valuable reference material. Although there is not space to acknowledge all these people individually I am especially indebted to Martin Schulz, Clive Marks, Peter Canty, Hans Brunner, Wendy and Derek Falconer, Paul Kelly, Janet Lanyon, Heather Meek, Colin and Vi Merrett, Pauline Reilly, Helen and Jim Scott, Greg Young, Manfred Heide and Sheryn Woon. Tony Mitchell, Nick Mooney and other officers of the wildlife authorities of all states were also most helpful.

I also wish to thank the rangers and staff of the Narawntapu National Park and Dorothy Chalmers for her assistance in the field there. Amanda

Cox of the Wombat Protection Society went out of her way to help me with information and photographs and I sincerely thank her. I am also very grateful to the illustrators - Peter Schouten, Jonathan Guy and Trish Wright - whose work enhances the book.

Finally I want to thank the wombats themselves, the wild ones who put up with my presence and the orphans who taught me so much, for the endless delight they have given, and continue to give me. May they always be there.

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