Breeding Wombats

Problems Breeding Wombats 

Basil's Battle 

The following story is a little complex but is worth relating to enlighten you to the problems that can occur when keeping Hairy-nosed Wombats (Lasiorhinus latifrons). 

Before starting the story I should give you a potted history of the animals involved. 

Firstly there is Albert and Victoria, both hand raised and at the time of writing both about four and a half years old. At Inglewood they were in an isolated enclosure of approximately 100m2 and as they were raised together we decided to keep them together. They have now been co-habiting within this enclosure for about three years without any dramas. 

Secondly there is Wombles (a twelve year old female), Sarah (an eight year old female) and Goldie (an eight year old male), again all hand-raised. This trio live together also without any great drama even though they were not raised together. However, the two females dislike one another intensely and have formed a mutual distrust.  In late 1995 we were lucky enough to breed from these animals by a coming together of Wombles and Goldie, producing Basil in mid 1996. These animals have three interconnected enclosures, totalling about 250m2

The next participant in this story is Barrelbum, a two and a half year old female. She also is a hand raised animal that has turned out to be real sook. She had a small isolated enclosure of about 40m2

The final and main participant in this story is Basil. This is really an account of his life. 

And so to the story. 

Basil was not handraised as we considered his mum (Wombles) would do a better job of it than we could. As it turned out we were wrong. We do not know the cause of the problem but judging by his size she did not feed him as well as she might and at a year old he weighed in at only 6kg. It was around this time that she (his mum) started to attack him, the poor little chap would emerge from the den with hair missing from his back and sides but he would still run and hide behind her for protection when we entered the enclosure, at which point she would turn and bite him. This behaviour also occurred when they were fed - he would always try to eat from her food dish, rather than his own. but she would turn and wallop him. We assumed this to be natural behaviour (which we found out later was) but when his hair loss became physical wounds we decided, despite his size, to take him away from her and hand raise him. 

The attempt at handraising failed even though we persevered for some time. He was quite content to eat solid food (and large amounts of it) but stubbornly refused to take a bottle. 

After having him indoors for sometime we decided he should have an enclosure of his own and we would continue to give him solid food only and forget the bottle. 

We hastily built him a small enclosure next door to Barrelbum (who at that stage was about three times his size). The idea being that these two could get to know one another through the wire and eventually we could try putting them together. 

After we had moved Basil away from his mum and out into his own enclosure he gained weight very quickly, in fact he gained 1.5kgs in the first week, but unfortunately he contracted a bad case of ringworm. We treated him for this condition but before he started to show signs of improvement he reached a stage of being almost bald and his front claws were growing malformed (due to the ringworm affecting the claw root). We surmised that this problem may have been due to the stress of firstly being attacked by his mum and then by us taking him away from her. 

Anyway we (or rather he) overcame that problem and he progressed very well, gaining weight and generally behaving as wombats do including making himself known to his neighbour by snuffling at her through the interconnecting wire, but no fighting. It all looked very promising. 

The next trauma in his life occurred one weekend when we were moving some stuff to our new premises at Sandleton. We had put out Basils feed on the Saturday morning before we left for the weekend but we had not sighted him (which was in itself not unusual). However, when we returned late on the Sunday night there was still no sign of Basil and his food had not been touched. Obviously we were immediately very concerned. On further investigation we found him behind his den with one of his front paws entwined in a piece of binding twine from which he could not escape and it was so tightly bound around his leg that it had cut into the flesh and the foot was badly swollen. We immediately extricated him from this mess by torchlight in the middle of the night, cleaned the wound as best we could and as soon as he was free he limped straight his feed dish and started to hoe into his tucker. We decided we would leave him there for the remainder of the night so he could have a good feed and examine him in more detail by daylight. In the morning he was examined again and the wound cleaned again and then brought into the house in a pet pack and we organised a trip to the vet. He was given a course of antibiotics and he survived the ordeal without any apparent permanent damage. At this stage he was about 16kgs and about two years of age and was catching up to Barrelbum in size. 

Whilst all this was going on we had completed two wombat enclosures at Sandleton, in one of which we intended to house Basil and Barrelbum together. Both these enclosures are about 200m2 so as you can see that they are considerably larger than the ones they had been used to at Inglewood. Anyway they were both moved on the 8th of February this year (1998) and placed in there new enclosure. I am pleased to report that were no real problems - there was a little bit of huffing and puffing, mostly by Barrelbum which surprised me as she is the dominant animal and the larger of the two, but they settled down and seemed to accept the new arrangement without too much hassle. 

The second of these enclosures was now made ready for occupation. I should mention here that these two enclosures are next door to one another with a dividing weldmesh fence. 

We had a choice of which animals to house in this second enclosure but we finally settled on Albert and Victoria. Basil and Barrelbum had been in situ for four weeks at the time we arrived with the other two for next door. Everything appeared to go well. 

Then, a couple of weeks later, I had occasion to be at Sandleton one Friday night. It happened to be a very quiet and still moon-less night when I was woken at about 3.30am to hear wombats hissing and huffing in the distance. My immediate thought was that we had a wild wombat, or wombats (there are a considerable number on the property) making a nuisance of themselves around the enclosures in which we had our tame animals. Even though there was no moon it was quite a bright night and I could see the wombat enclosures from the front of the house without having to go outside. With binoculars I could see, firstly that there were no wild wombats in the vicinity but what appeared to Basil and Barrelbum chasing one another around the enclosure at great speed, occasionally diving into their den and then out again to continue the chase, but apparently not actually "coming to blows". I watched this for some time and thought ‘oh well - there’ll sort themselves out eventually’ and by this time the peace and quiet had resumed so I went back to bed and thought no more about it. 

The following day we did not venture over to their enclosures as there were no animals in sight and they would have been tucked up their dens fast asleep. We eventually went over there at feeding time which was just after dark. When we got there we found Barrelbum and Victoria in one enclosure and Albert and Basil in the other with a nice little scrape dug under the dividing fence. 

It seems that what I had seen that previous night was the two boys attempting to get stuck into one another.  We then had to return the two animals back to their respective homes, which no mean feat I can tell you, but the worst was yet to come. 

Albert had a small patch of fur missing from his nose but when we eventually enticed Basil out of his hidey-hole his head was a mess; fortunately no broken skin but he had no fur from the back of his neck, between the ears, across his head and down to his nose. He looked very sorry for himself. Anyway we managed to sort them out and then we had the job of repairing and strengthening the fence which we eventually completed at about 1.00am Sunday morning. 

A week later I woke early on the Sunday morning and could see Basil wandering about his enclosure so I went over to have a look at him to see if his head looked any better. When I got there I nearly wept. His head was bleeding from an number of fresh wounds in the bare skin of his face and one of his ears had been just about torn in half. I went straight back to the house, called Jan, then returned to his enclosure with a large pet pack with the intention of getting him out to treat his wounds. 

When we returned with pet pak in hand we were being given a demonstration of how he had received his wounds. The two animals (Basil and Albert) were fighting through the dividing fence but Basil was lying on his side with his back, head and neck pressed tightly up against the wire and was angrily gnawing away at one of the posts supporting the dividing wire mesh but in doing this it meant that Albert had unimpeded access to Basil’s ears, head and back. We soon put a stop to that and Basil was hastily popped into the pet pak. We left him the pet pak for the remainder of the day and then carted him back to Inglewood where we treated his wounds and put him in Albert and Victoria’s old enclosure where he will now reside until we can build him a new home at Sandleton. 

So, in his two short years of life, the poor little bugger has been starved by his mum, beaten up by his mum, taken away from her by us, had a bad dose of ringworm, a front paw almost severed, and a brutal bashing by one of his own kind. Lets hope from here on in we can give him a much easier life. 

This story highlights just how much care and thought needs to go into keeping these animals. No matter how hard we try there always seems to be something that comes up unexpectedly or as the saying goes - ‘always expect the unexpected’. So we learn by these experiences and work towards avoiding them in the future. 

A final footnote. Since we have removed Basil from the enclosure with Barrelbum her attitude has changed.  She seems to be missing him. She has been wandering around the enclosure looking lost, almost as though she is searching for him. Her attitude towards us is also different - when we first put them together her sookiness was not as evident but since removing him it has returned. Maybe one day we will be able to get them back together again. 

* * * * * * * * * * *

A footnote two and a half years on (February 2000):- 

Basil is now in a large enclosure (approximately half an acre) with his mum and another handraised unrelated three year old female (Chunky), and he has been a very busy boy!!?? Chunky has a young in the pouch which we managed to get a good look at it the other day (11th Feb 2000) and it is another male. So we now have second generation captive bred animals thanks to Basil (and Chunky of course)!

Bennett's Wallaby
Juvenile NT Brushtail Possum
Swamp Wallaby
Golden Brushtail Possum
Red Kangaroos
Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies
Baby Squirrel Glider
Sugar Glider

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