The wombat is a small, rather charming, herbivorous marsupial found in Australia and Tasmania. They are solitary animals, with short brown fur and a large nose, looking somewhat like a cross between a kangaroo and a koala. Others describe it as resembling petite bears, since they are so stocky. The wombat tends to be rather docile in appearance, yet, if necessary, can attack with ferocity to defend itself or its children.
Most Australians have never seen a wild wombat. This is in part because they are extremely proficient at digging and tunneling. They create huge networks of burrows and are usually not seen above ground during the day, as they are generally nocturnal. The animal is exceptionally strong and muscle bound, but generally slow moving. A full-grown wombat can weigh as much as 55 pounds (24.94 kg), and be about 40 inches (about 1 m) in length.
Research into wombat physiology reveals that the animal has the largest and most fully developed brain of any marsupial, suggesting high intelligence. This intelligence does not translate to it making a good pet however. Since they are solitary, they like to be left alone, and especially older ones may lash out at owners simply out of grumpiness.
There are two varieties on the Australian continent, the common wombat, and the hairy nosed wombat. Both have the same stocky body, but the hairy nosed variety tends to have an elongated nose, and more closely resembles the aardvark in face shape. Both have approximately the same life span, anywhere from 5-15 years. Captive animals may live over 20 years.
The female reaches sexual maturity at 2-4 years of age. They tend to bear their young singly, though occasionally they have twins. Gestation is very short, about 22 days. The newborn is then kept in the mother’s pouch for approximately 8 months. When the infant is about a year old, its mother usually forces it out her territory. Females may stay a little bit longer, but the wombat does not tolerate the company of its children for long. Likewise, mating periods are very brief, and the male is usually discouraged from remaining in the female’s territory once mating is finished.
Since wombats have long sharp claws, they can frequently fend off attacks by dingoes, their only predator in Australia. In Tasmania, they have no natural predators. They are most likely to be hit by cars, which is especially tragic if they are caring for young. The tiny babies have no natural defenses. This has led to a development of a number of wombat rescue centers. The tiny animals are raised in pouches constructed of cloth, and are constantly carried about by humans until they can fend for themselves. When possible, they are re-released into the wild. Other orphaned wombats end up in zoos because they lack the adequate skills to survive in the wild.
Some Australian farmers regard the wombat as a nuisance, since it easily plows through fields and completely ignores fences, which it can tunnel under. However, most find the animal endearing, and there are many zoos throughout Australia, which exhibit them. These exhibits aid in education on how to avoid unnecessarily harming wombats.