Manual Wombats (Australian Natural History Series)

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Wombats seem to prefer Tussock Grass in the forest areas, and Kangaroo Grass and Wallaby Grass are favoured in open, more pastoral areas. At times when it is eating grass, a wombat will also eat dry leaves and stalks, and occasionally tear a strip of bark from a tree trunk and chew small quantities of it. In some habitats, wombats also feed on mosses, possibly as a source of water, given their low nutritional value.

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Anecdotal observations of wombats feeding on fungi have been reported as well. Wombats are generally classed as solitary animals despite the overlapping ranges and occasional sharing of the burrows. Therefore, communication between two individuals is often threatening or aggressive. A warning call is usually a low guttural growl, but when a wombat is alarmed or angered, rasping hiss can also be heard.

The animal repeats this high, loud call as it expels air. Communication is also apparent between younger animals and their mothers.

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Usually, one very small, underdeveloped wombat is born following a short gestation period probably 30 days. It makes its way to the pouch, where it grows and develops for months. The young then leaves the pouch and remains with its mother for further months before becoming independent.

Common Wombats become sexually mature after two years and live up to 11 years in the wild. In captivity, individuals can live well into their twenties. Breeding may occur at any time of the year, with a single young being born. However, in the highlands of New South Wales, most wombats give birth during December-March, while in Tasmania there is an apparent bias towards October-January being the birthing season. On Flinders Island no births occur between September-January months.

When a female enters oestrus she becomes active and aggressive. Mating has been observed in captive wombats; the female attacked the male for about 30 minutes before allowing him to mate. The mating lasted for about 30 minutes with both male and female laying on their sides. In the wild, the courtship consists of the female being chased by the male in wide circles. After several minutes the female breaks away and resumes the chasing behaviour.

This action can be repeated several times within about 30 minutes. In eastern Victoria the species is considered a vermin due to the damage it causes to fencing. Some landholders also blame the wombats for erosion of creek and river banks, which is often far lower compared to that caused by poor farming practices: over-stocking and over-clearing, in particular.

Common Wombat does not have many natural predators, except the introduced ones: wild dogs and foxes. In the open, an adult wombat can usually hold its own against a single dog, but it is overcome by a pair or a pack of dogs. Wombats are susceptible to bacterial infections that can be difficult to treat in captivity. However, in the wild, an injured wombat will roll in earth and the soil will stick to the wounded area, allowing the area to heal with time. Similar behaviour is observed when the animal suffers from mange mite, and the soil is believed to help the animal alleviate some of the intense itchiness caused by the disease.

Other external parasites commonly found on wombats include: ear mites, skin mites and ticks. Internal parasites include worms of various kinds, but these appear to do little or no harm to the animal. In areas where wombats and sheep graze together, wombats can become infected with liver fluke, a parasite common in sheep. Similarly, in the vicinity of other domestic stock, wombats can get infected with leptospirosis which causes serious kidney damage.

Common Wombat

In captivity, toxoplasmosis is a major cause of death for young, hand-reared wombats. Common Wombats are mainly nocturnal animals and as such are not often encountered by people in the wild.

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  7. A recent, but rare attack of a wombat has been reported in April in Victoria, when a man was charged and knocked down by the animal which also mauled his leg, and left scratch marks on his chest. If bitten or scratched by a wombat a person should have the wounds cleaned and bandaged, and receive a tetanus shot if needed.

    Tasmanian and island species are generally smaller. Females tend to be slightly larger than males of the same age, but the geographical variation makes it difficult to generalise. Average head and body length of mainland wombat is mm mm. Weight is 26 kg kg. Barnes also noted that the female alternated between the squatting and bent forward positions, all the while vocalising, teeth grinding and body shaking.

    When squatting, the female made repeated thrusting movements with her hindlimbs, fully extending her hindlimbs for a few seconds Fig. This behaviour went on repeatedly for over an hour. Figure 5 Download Figure Download figure as PowerPoint slide Parturition postures observed in a captive common wombat Vombatus ursinus.

    Repeated wild female capture is impractical, so as a consequence, wombat PY growth and development charts have been derived from captive-bred and hand-reared animals only. The growth rate of wombat PY is linear between birth and Day , after which growth slows and is best described by a polynomial equation Taggart et al. Wild PY age is best approximated using physical characteristics Table 4. There is limited information available on wombat PY development Table 4 with studies composed of incomplete data based on 1—2 individuals only e. Other aspects of development such as first release of the teat — vs — days , permanent pouch emergence — vs — days and weaning — vs — days also occur earlier in the SHNW Table 4.

    Closed circles represent data from Taggart et al. Open circles and closed triangles represent data from Jackson Open triangles represent data from Boer Artificial reproductive technology ART has considerable potential for improving the propagation and genetic diversity of wombat populations and has already been explored to a limited extent in the Vombatidae e.

    Despite these advances, practical methods for manipulating wombat reproduction for the purposes of obtaining research material or for artificial breeding are not yet available. One of the major reasons for this is that the precise timing of oestrus and ovulation is not well documented, nor are the hormonal changes associated with these events. Wombat seminal characteristics have been recorded in studies focusing on the monitoring of male fertility and on the development of electro-ejaculation EJ and semen cryopreservation techniques Table 5.

    In brief, the male wombat is anaesthetised before a lubricated multipolar rectal probe, with three longitudinally orientated strip electrodes inserted into the rectum. Ejaculates of both species typically have a high percentage of motile sperm Table 5.

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    Table 5 Wombat seminal characteristics: a summary of published information. There have been numerous successful attempts to cryopreserve both cauda epididymal and ejaculated wombat spermatozoa Table 5. Interestingly, wombat spermatozoa like those of most other marsupials do not appear to exhibit susceptibility to cold shock Miller et al. As a result, wombat sperm cryopreservation diluents do not necessarily require the addition of egg yolk, but they do require a high concentration of glycerol in order to obtain adequate post-thaw survival. While cryobiological studies have examined the physio-chemical tolerances and biophysical properties of vombatid spermatozoa MacCallum , Miller et al.

    Successful AI protocols have only been developed in two marsupials: the koala and tammar wallaby. Contributing factors to the success of AI in the koala is that oestrus is easily detected and that ovulation can be induced Johnston et al.

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    In the tammar wallaby, birth and post-partum oestrus can be tightly synchronised by the removal of PY and ovulation is quite predictable, thus facilitating successful AI Paris et al. As there are no reliable methods of oestrus detection, induction or synchronisation in the Vombatidae, the development of a successful AI protocol in wombats has been severely hindered. Druery attempted to determine the optimal timing for insemination in wombats by testing whether laparoscopy or transabdominal ultrasonography could be used to detect the presence of the pre-ovulatory follicle; these techniques were unsuccessful due to the opaqueness of the ovarian bursa which obscured the ovary.

    Given the structural similarity of koala and wombat reproductive anatomy, it is very likely that the methodology used for koala AI would be suitable for wombats. Using a vasectomised teaser male to detect oestrus in the female, two females were inseminated but no offspring were produced. AI experiments will continue into but using fresh EJ semen and close observation of oestrus using video surveillance.

    The AACE facility has over 20 wombats in its care and this large number will allow for more controlled experiments. Some of these females have recently been trained to urinate on demand so that samples can be analysed for hormone metabolites; this will be particularly useful as oestradiol metabolite measurement from SHNW faeces has not been instructive for monitoring oestrous cycle activity Hogan et al. Cross-fostering is an ethically challenging conservation technique. This technique also poses a significant ethical issue, as it requires that the progeny of the non-threatened species to be killed, allowing the mother to raise the endangered young.

    Previous successes in other endangered marsupials see review by Taggart et al. Some of the ethical concerns associated with this technology could be reduced if oestrus synchronisation procedures, that allow the timed transfer of NHNW PY to CW or SHNW foster mothers at the appropriate stage of the reproductive cycle, are successfully developed.

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    8. Nevertheless, it would still be a very brave animal manager who would make the decision to transfer a NHNW PY to a foster mother, in preference to allowing it to develop naturally. Initially, Finlayson et al. Thereafter, Finlayson et al. Females recaptured 4—11 months later were still carrying the fostered PY or showed evidence of late lactation on the same teat that the fostered PY was originally attached to.

      Clearly, accelerated breeding through PY transfer is theoretically possible but further knowledge, leading to reliable captive husbandry and manipulation of the oestrous cycle, first needs to be established. Druery et al.

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      Improved ovulations rates and oocyte yields have also been achieved in both species following hormonal stimulation West et al. In general, multiple administrations of FSH are required to stimulate follicular maturation, whilst a single LH injection is then required to induce ovulation of the recruited follicles.