Watched by a Wombat

Mostly, all we ever see of him is a handful of cube shaped calling cards that he leaves heaped on a rock or a fallen log nearby.  For ages, we didn’t even see that, but, bit by bit, he has been venturing closer and closer, and, for a while now, we have found his scats quite closely arranged in an ever decreasing circuit around the perimeter of our garden.  There was even evidence of a brief foray into the garden, once, to investigate his old hole.

I feel as though we are being watched.

We’ve been at Seventy Seven Acres for three years now, and, right from the start, the Eastern Greys just sort of took us for granted. To them, we’re family.  There is a Swamp Wallaby that considers us his catering crew, and a family of Brush Tailed Possums with a similar view, not to mention the myriad of birds that watch me through the window every morning, waiting to see if there is anything for breakfast.

The Echidna occasionally turns up at my study window searching for insects caught in the cobwebs (I’d rather have the spiders than the poison and am too lazy to go around with a brush too often), and we have seen turtles at the dam and blue tongue lizards and water dragons on the track.

Wombat remains (mostly) invisible.

Wombat on track... facing off with our car before dashing into the bush...

Wombat on track… facing off with our car before dashing into the bush…

We know he is there.  As I said, he leaves his scats prominently displayed, and I did stop the car in great excitement once to take his photo as he charged across the track.  The previous owners also had photos of him pottering around the garden in a slide show they had cannily left playing on their giant TV screen (it was pictures of the snow on the same screen that caused me to say, “Snow?  that’s it!” and caused the Real Estate Agent a moment of, “Oh, it’s not every year… maybe once every three years… and not very much…”, not realising that it was a selling point for me, not a turn off, and, little did she know, we were already sold by then).

He was a rescue wombat, and I don’t know the full story but I’m pretty sure it involved a car.  Wombats and cars are not a good mix.  Since moving here I have seen too many of them upside down by the side of the road.  Not much seems to scavenge on them (I gather from the story Wombat Stew by Marcia K Vaughan that they are very tough eating) so they tend to be lying there for some time, a sad reminder of the toll on wildlife brought about by our fast paced age.  Wombats are not too good for cars either.  I’ve seen the resulting damage to a visitor’s car after an altercation along the valley.  Best to try and miss them if you can.  Although, that can be difficult, as they are very quick little creatures.  Well, quite big creatures, actually.

Anyway, my understanding is that he was brought up from a joey elsewhere, and released here as a young adult.  There is a wombat hole in the garden, and there was a pile of sand for his digging pleasure, and there are definitely other wombats around, so he is not alone.

The ex-owners told us tales reminiscent of Diary of a Wombat (the lovely picture book by Jackie French) but did warn us that he had become less people oriented as he became older — which was, indeed, the aim of the game.  We, clearly, are not the right people at all, and, quite rightly, he maintains his distance.

Although that distance is getting smaller… and we are being watched.

Some Wombat Facts

Wombats, one of Australia’s famous marsupials, are squat and sturdy in build, with a large head and small eyes and ears.  They have short, muscular legs, which, teamed up with their sharp claws, make them amazing diggers, and the females have a backwards facing pouch so that joeys don’t get showered in dirt as Mum digs.  Wombats can dig burrows that are up to 30 metres long and a couple of metres deep, and they generally stay inside during the day, where they can keep cool in summer and warm in winter, often sharing with other wombats.

Don’t be fooled though, those short legs can carry them at fairly high speeds.  I have memories of reading about one that was clocked at 40 kilometres an hour, and I’ve seen them hike across a road at an alarming speed.  I suspect this is why they get hit so often – people just don’t realise how quickly a frightened animal can turn and run across the road in front of them.

Wombats are generally grazing animals, mostly eating native grasses, but I’m given to understand that they are also partial to carrots and parsnips, and even the occasional bowl of oats!  They are very territorial about their feeding grounds, however, and will chase off challengers with lots of noisy grunts and snorts.

Mating in spring, between September and December, Wombats produce one offspring, which crawls its way to the pouch and usually stays there for about seven to twelve months.  They are tiny when they are born, weighing about one ounce, but they grow quickly in the protection of the pouch.  Wombats reach maturity and are able to have young of their own at about two years of age.

In New South Wales, wombats are protected but continue to face threats from cars and wild dogs, as well as suffering from competition for feeding from domestic animals.  The Common Wombat (like our friend) is not considered threatened, but the Northern and Southern Hairy Nosed Wombats are on the endangered list.

Information from http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/animals/Wombats.htm (and care of Jackie French’s wonderful book Diary of a Wombat )