Taronga Zoo is celebrating breeding the Zoo’s first Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat in 30 years, unlocking secrets which could also help their critically endangered wild cousins. The female joey, named Turra (meaning shadow or shade from the Aboriginal Kaurna language group) recently emerged from mom Korra’s pouch and is a triumph for the Zoo’s efforts on behalf of the species; until recently they were thought to be completely extinct in New South Wales and have been notoriously difficult to breed in captivity.
After many unfruitful matings since efforts began in 2002, a few new factors were applied that led to success. “We decided this time to leave the male in with the females for the whole year,” said Keeper Samantha Elton. “We took a hands-off approach and also provided them with new soil to let them create their own burrows. Hoping our male, Noojee, would breed this year, we added a healthy dose of competition by placing another male in the den. Apparently wombats favor certain individuals, so compatibility certainly played a role.”
Little is known about the development of Wombat pouch young, however Korra is very relaxed in her environment, often sleeping on her back, giving Taronga Keepers the unique opportunity to monitor and measure the joey.
“This has provided invaluable information. We were very lucky to have been able to check on the joey from when it measured just 6 cm and was still hairless,” Samantha added.
Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat numbers in the wild are in decline with loss of habitat, road deaths, drought, competition for food from introduced species, and, more recently, the debilitating infestation of Sarcoptic Mange. Information gained from zoo breeding programs is crucial in ensuring the survival of this species.
Read more about conservation efforts for the three species of wombats below the jump.
There are three species of Wombats, the Common, Southern Hairy-nosed and Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. Vehicle fatalities, farming and competition for food from introduced species like rabbits have affected these wild populations. It is hoped this birth could also have a significant impact on efforts to arrest the decline of Australia’s most endangered mammal species, the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat.
Dr. Rebecca Spindler, Manager of Taronga’s Conservation and Research Centre, said: “Southern-hairy Nosed Wombats are close relatives of their critically endangered Northern counterparts, which used to be found from NSW to Queensland, with fossils even found as far south as Victoria. Now there’s just 115 animals in just one small area in central Queensland. If we can perfect and apply what we learned from our breeding program here to Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats, the ramifications for this critically endangered species could be immense.”