Animal Info - Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat

(Other Names: Barnard's Hairy-nosed Wombat, Moonie River Wombat, Oso Marsupial del Ro Moonie, Queensland Hairy-nosed Wombat, Queensland Wombat, Soft-furred Wombat, Wombat Narines Poilues du Queensland, Wombat Nez Poilu de Queensland, Yaminon)

Lasiorhinus krefftii (Includes L. barnardi & L. gillespiei) (Other: L. latifrons gillespiei, L. latifrons barnardi, Wombatula gillespiei)

Status: Critically Endangered


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Size and Weight, Habitat, Age to Maturity, Gestation Period, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Early Development, Dispersal, Maximum Age, Diet, Behavior, Social Organization, Mortality and Survival, Density and Range)
5. References


Profile

Pictures: Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat #1 (19 Kb GIF) (Lonnon's End. Spec.); Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat #2 (32 Kb JPEG) (Queensland Env. Prot. Ag.); Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat #3 (36 Kb JPEG) (Env. Austral.)

The northern hairy-nosed wombat is a strong, heavily-built marsupial.  Its distinctive, squarish muzzle is covered with short brown hairs. It can weigh up to 40 kg (88 lb) and measure more than one meter (3.3') long.  Although wombats would seem to be slow and clumsy, they can move up to 40 km/h (25 mph) over a short distance. Grasses compose most of their diet. One young is born per litter. The northern hairy-nosed wombat is nocturnal, spending the day in a burrow and coming out at night to feed. It is completely terrestrial and well equipped with short, powerful legs and long, strong claws for digging its large, often complex system of burrows. The preferred habitat is flat, semi-arid grassland with deep, sandy soils and open acacia and eucalypt woodland along inland river systems, where there are patches of dense scrub and ground cover consisting of native grasses.

The northern hairy-nosed wombat seems to have been uncommon throughout historical times. Since European settlement, it has only been found in three areas - the Deniliquin area in southern New South Wales, the Moonie River area in southern Queensland, and Epping Forest in central Queensland. By the late 1960's, the only remaining population was found in 16 sq km (6 sq mi) within Epping Forest in central Queensland.  This continues to be the only known population, now contained within the Epping Forest National Park in an area of only 3 sq km (1.2 sq mi).

The northern hairy-nosed wombat declined because of drought; direct persecution; habitat loss; and competition with introduced rabbits, cattle and sheep. Overgrazing by cattle was removed as a threat once cattle were excluded from its Epping Forest habitat by a fence in 1982. The greatest current threat to its survival is the fact that it exists in only one small population, leaving it vulnerable to a local catastrophe such as a disease outbreak or a prolonged drought. 


Tidbits

*** The northern hairy-nosed wombat is one of the world's rarest mammals.

*** The northern hairy-nosed wombat is the largest herbivorous burrowing mammal in the world.

*** The northern hairy-nosed wombat has a backwards-opening pouch to reduce soiling of its pouch enclosure that otherwise would occur when it digs its burrow.

*** The wombat's teeth never stop growing, allowing it to grind its food even when it is old.


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

  • 1960's: Rare
  • 1980's - 1994: Endangered
  • 1996 - 2004: Critically Endangered (Criteria: B1+2c, D) (Population Trend: Decreasing) (IUCN 2004)

Countries Where the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat Is Currently Found:

2004: Occurs in Australia (IUCN 2004).

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

History of Distribution:

The northern hairy-nosed wombat seems to have been uncommon throughout historical times. Fossil remains have been found in southwest and central New South Wales, as well as Victoria and Queensland. Since European settlement, these wombats have been found only in three areas - the Deniliquin area in southern New South Wales, the Moonie River area in southern Queensland, and Epping Forest in central Queensland (Queensland Parks Wildl. Serv. 2003). The population in southern Queensland, formerly called L. gillespiei, is thought to have been extinct since about 1900. By the late 1960's, the only remaining population (formerly designated L. barnardi) was found in 16 sq km (6 sq mi) of Epping Forest, about 130 km ( 80 mi) northwest of Clermont in central Queensland (IUCN 1969).  This continues to be the only known population, now contained within the Epping Forest National Park in an area of only 3 sq km (1.2 sq mi) (Queensland Parks Wildl. Serv. 2003).

Distribution Map #1 (4 Kb GIF) (Maxwell et al. 1996)
Distribution Map #2 (14 KB GIF) (Wombat Info. Ctr.)

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

Reasons proposed for the historic decline of the northern hairy-nosed wombat include drought, direct persecution; habitat loss; and competition with introduced rabbits, cattle and sheep. Overgrazing by cattle and drought appear to be the main factors accounting for its decline (Horsup 1999). However, the situation improved once cattle were excluded from its Epping Forest habitat in 1982.

The greatest current threat to the northern hairy-nosed wombat's survival is the fact that it exists in only one small population. This leaves the wombats susceptible to a stochastic population fluctuation or a local catastrophe such as a disease outbreak or a prolonged drought. Predation from dingoes had posed another serious threat (In the winter of 2000 - 2001, 10 % of the Epping Forest wombats  were eaten by dingoes (Woodford 2001)), but this has been alleviated by the construction of a dingo-proof fence around the entire remaining wombat habitat in 2002 (Queensland Parks Wildl. Serv. 2003)


Data on Biology and Ecology

Size and Weight:

Up to 40 kg (88 lb) and more than 1 m (3.3') long.  Females are slightly heavier than males. (Johnson & Crossman 1991b)

Habitat:

The northern hairy-nosed wombat prefers flat, semi-arid grassland with deep, sandy soils and open acacia and eucalypt woodland along inland river systems, where there are patches of dense scrub and ground cover consisting of native grasses. The current habitat of the northern hairy-nosed wombat in Epping Forest has a vegetation of flat grassland and eucalypt woodland, with some patches of closed scrub on deep, sandy soil (Flannery 1990, Strahan 1995).

The wombats occupy only about 300 hectares (750 acres) of the 3160 hectares (7900 acres) of Epping Forest National Park because most of the park's soils are heavy clays, which are unsuitable for burrows (Queensland Parks Wildl. Serv. 2003)

Age to Maturity:

In the closely related southern hairy-nosed wombat, Lasiorhinus latifrons, sexual maturity is reached at 3 years in females and at 2 - 3 years in males (Horsup 1999).

Gestation Period:

Research on the closely related southern hairy-nosed wombat, Lasiorhinus latifrons, has shown that gestation lasts for 21 days (Horsup 1999).

Birth Season:

Most young are born in the summer wet season, November - April (Horsup 1999).

Birth Rate:

Breeding rate (measured as the proportion of females breeding in any one year) correlates closely with summer rainfall. This averaged 50-75% in the period 1985-89, but was only 20% in 1993 during a major drought. (Horsup 1999)

There is 1 young per litter. Females can breed, on average, twice every 3 years (Strahan 1995), assuming that rainfall is adequate.  However, it is probably very rare that this birth rate is achieved, since usually there are not 3 good rainfall years in a row (Horsup 2003).

Early Development:

The young wombat remains in its mother's pouch for six to nine months, then stays in the burrow when its mother goes out to feed. The exact time young wombats remain with their mothers is unknown, but it's probably about one year. Thus young wombats start fending for themselves during the summer wet season, the most favorable grass growing period. (Queensland Parks Wildl. Serv. 2003)

Dispersal:

At least 50% of adult females undertake long-term dispersal to other burrows in Epping Forest National Park at some time in their lives (Horsup 1999)

Maximum Age:

At least 20 years in the wild (Horsup 2003) and 27 years in captivity (Horsup 1999).

Diet:

The northern hairy-nosed wombat eats native and some introduced grasses.

Wombats have among the lowest water needs of any mammal on Earth - around 1/5 of a sheep’s and a quarter of a kangaroo’s (Woodford 2001)

Behavior:

The northern hairy-nosed wombat is a nocturnal grazer. It is completely terrestrial and well equipped with short, powerful legs and long, strong claws for digging its large, often complex burrows. This wombat lives in a harsh climate with very hot summers and long periods of dry weather. It copes by minimizing the amount of time spent above ground and choosing the most comfortable times of night for feeding excursions (although it will sun itself on winter afternoons). 

Burrows are constructed in deep, sandy soils along dry creek beds. The wombat digs with its forepaws, throwing loose sand behind itself. It then walks backwards out of its burrow to bulldoze the sand clear. A burrow tunnel can be up to 20 m (66') long and 3.5 m (11.6') deep.  But it's only wide enough for a single wombat to pass - approximately 0.5 m (1.7'). 

Burrows in use are carefully maintained and marked around the entrance with piles of dung and splashes of urine. Dung piles are also placed at intervals along trails. Each burrow contains moist air whose temperature remains the same throughout the year. The burrows are usually located close to trees whose roots may provide support in the soft, sandy soil and whose crowns provide shade.

The wombats construct complex tunnel systems comprising a number of separate burrows. Each burrow has 1 - 7 (average 2 - 3) entrances, and the burrows are distributed in loose clusters which may contain up to 20 burrows within a few hectares (half a dozen acres) and be occupied by 4 - 5 wombats (up to 10). The burrows of one colony of hairy-nosed wombats in the early 20th century covered an area 800 m (2600') long and about 80 m (260') wide. Each individual wombat makes use of most of the burrows in a cluster but avoids encounters with other wombats and spends most of its time alone. The entrances are connected above ground by a network of trails, and additional trails radiate out to feeding areas and other burrow clusters. 

(Horsup 1999, Nowak 1999, Strahan 1995)

The northern hairy-nosed wombat usually feeds aboveground for six hours per night in winter and two hours per night in summer. By comparison, an eastern grey kangaroo of similar size feeds for 10 - 18 hours per day. (Queensland Parks Wildl. Serv. 2003) 

Social Organization:

Wombats are usually not social animals. Burrows are occupied by a single wombat 70% of the time. However, burrow sharing may occur in the larger, multi-entrance burrows and usually involves females rather than a male and female. Up to 10 wombats, with an equal number of males and females, live in each group of burrows. Although casual movements between burrow groups are rare, at least 50% of adult females change burrow groups at some time in their lives. (Johnson 1991, Johnson & Crossman 1991a, Horsup 1999)

Mortality and Survival:

Recent estimates using mark-recapture methods indicate adult mortality levels of around 5% in good years (range 0 - 14%). (Horsup 1999)

Density and Range:

In the dry season, adult wombats occupy core feeding ranges of approximately 6 hectares (15 acres). In the wet season, feeding range size is halved. Feeding ranges of female wombats tend not to overlap; however, male ranges overlap those of females. Their maximum range is 25 hectares (63 acres). (Horsup 1999)


References

Arkive, Burbidge & McKenzie 1989, Burton & Pearson 1987, Envir. Australia 1999, Env. Austral., Flannery 1990, Horsup 1999, Horsup 2003, IUCN 1966, IUCN 1969, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, Johnson 1991, Johnson & Crossman 1991a, Johnson & Crossman 1991b, Kennedy 1992, Lonnon's End. Spec., Macdonald 1984, Maxwell et al. 1996, Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat Rec. Team 1998, Nowak 1999, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Oryx 1989, Queensland Env. Prot. Ag., Queensland Parks Wildl. Serv. 2003, Strahan 1995, Wombat Info. Ctr., Wombat Survival Foundation, Woodford 2001, Woolnough 1999


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