Aviary and Enclosure
Design and Construction
 
 

5.      ENCLOSURE CONSTRUCTION (con'td)

Please click on thumbnail pictures to enlarge

B.  Enclosures for the Hairy-nosed Wombat

Method One

Our first enclosure was a ‘one off’ and although it served us well for many years but had some drawbacks which I will come to in a moment.    It was constructed in the following manner

The materials used were permapine poles for posts and rails with 100 x 100 x 2.5mm welded mesh for the fencing material.     By the way, do not let anyone talk you into using high tensile welded mesh to contain this type of animal – you will regret it!!   I was and I did!   Always use soft galvanised.    Wombats will “work” or “worry” the wire and high tensile wire will work harden very quickly and break, allowing escapes (again, I speak from bitter experience).

The first thing I did was to determine where the perimeter had to be, using much the same method as we had with our feral-proof macropod enclosures.    Then I hired a Ditch Witch and dug a trench along this line to a depth of about 1m and into it dropped the weldmesh and the posts.    The posts were not set into concrete.    Then I used further permapine poles nailed to the tops of the posts to make the rails.    Post height above ground was approximately 800mm.    This meant that I had the weldmesh 800mm above ground and 1000mm below ground which is part of the weakness in this method.    In our case, the depth to which the Ditch Witch had gone down meant that it had severed a main arterial root of one of our trees and it died slowly over the following year causing us some headaches in having to remove it.    (It was too dangerous to leave where it was, otherwise we would have). The other problem was that the wire rusted out at ground level.   It seemed to be O.K. well below ground and certainly O.K. above ground but an inch or so under the surface, was where the problem started to appear.    It had to be patched in several places, although to be fair, at the time it has been there for over ten years.    I suppose we shouldn’t expect it to last forever.

At that time, that enclosure had two young animals in it and they both got out through a single broken strand!    It still seems quite amazing to me, that these animals could squeeze through a fence with only one strand of wire broken.    Remember, the wire was as described before, 100mm (4”) x 100mm (4”) welded mesh and with one strand broken this meant that these animals had squeezed through an opening 100mm (4”) x 200mm (8”) – seems inconceivable doesn’t it - but it happened!.

One metre deep is not deep enough to stop a wombat digging underneath and out of the confines of the enclosure, but as these animals do not, for some inexplicable reason, dig upwards, this should not cause you any concern.    If there is to be any concern it should be with the soil types as there may be the danger of tunnel collapse and if an animal is this deep it is going to be extremely difficult to locate, or dig out, of a collapsed tunnel        

Method two

A much easier, (and less expensive) way to build a wombat enclosure, is basically the same as above, using the permapine post and rail method, but not placing the wire into the ground;  instead, fold it inwards at ground level.

First you will need to dig holes for the posts and drop them in place then attach the rails.    The depth of the holes should not be less than about 400mm and there is no need to set the posts in concrete, just back fill with the soil taken out if the holes.   If you like you can mix this soil with dry cement first, then back fill around the posts and water in.    Tip: attach the rails to the posts before you back fill the post holes.   This way you can make last minute adjustment to the posts if required.

Figure 14
One of several wombat enclosures we have built showing the original purpose built dens (now unused) and some of the animals’ own excavations.

The next step is to clear the ground within the enclosure where you are going to fold the wire onto the ground.    This is just a simple matter of raking or shovelling off the loose surface soil, keeping this in the centre of the enclosure for the time being.     Then attach the wire to the posts and rails using barbed staples then fold the wire down.   You may find that you will have to peg it down using steel tent pegs or similar to hold it in place.    If you do not want to go to the expense of using tent pegs, a good substitute is to make your own from 4mm galvanised wire which can be bought quite cheaply by the roll.      Just cut and bend to the required and shape and away you go!     You can leave these in place permanently.    Then replace the soil you had removed to the centre of the enclosure back to cover the wire.    If you wish you can spread around some leaf litter over the wire just to make it look good.  

To attach the welded mesh to the posts and rails needs a lot of patience – this stuff has a mind of its own!    I have found the easiest way to do this is to measure each straight length of fence first.    Then cut the wire to that length and pre-fold it lengthwise somewhere convenient and carry it folded to the site.   (This is a two person job, although one could manage it, but it is much more difficult).    Fix one half of the fold to the posts and/or rails then unfold it onto the enclosure floor.    Don’t be tempted to do too much length in one cut.

Alternatively, if you have a long length of straight fence to do as in the case of the enclosure shown at figure 14; this one fence line used a full 30m roll of welded mesh and because of the excessive length it was treated a little differently.    We attached it to the rails first, starting at one end and working our way along to the other end.    Then fixed the wire down at each post and bent it to shape as we went.

Using this method will give you a metre of ground all around the inside perimeter of the enclosure that is covered in mesh (and a double covering in the corners).    This has a couple of advantages.    Firstly it does not seem to rot so readily and, as wombats seem to prefer to dig against some sort of obstruction, or in a corner, it tends to have the effect of encouraging the animals to dig where there is no wire (i.e. in the central area of the run) where there is less likelihood of them escaping.   The only major disadvantage I have found with this system is that if the animals decide to dig at the edge of the wire on the floor and are not forced to go down very deep (as with the other system) there is a higher potential for tunnel collapse and subsequent escape.

Access Gates

To put it bluntly, I do not like access gates in wombat enclosures.    However, some of our earlier enclosures have gate access and the later ones do not.    A gate is not necessary as long as you have a spot where you can slide over the fence comfortably and quickly.    When dealing with these animals a quick escape route is essential and a gate is definitely not the quickest way of getting out of an enclosure in a hurry.    After many years of experience in working with these animals in a captive situation I much prefer to use styles for these enclosures (see Figure 15).    These are very simply made with a few off cuts of treated pine logs, an odd end of a stout piece of timber and a few 150mm (6”) nails.

Figure 15
A couple of different examples of styles

If you do prefer to have a gate, it gives you a point of weakness where the animal has the potential to escape.    Make sure the gate is well fitting particularly at ground level.    It is a good idea to make a concrete slab for under the gate to prevent the animal digging under it.    I have had one animal lift a gate off its hinges and find her way back into the house in the middle of the night.   (She squeezed in through the cat flap).   It can give you a nasty fright when a 20kg animal leaps on your bed at one o’clock in the morning waking you from a deep sleep.    It just happened to be her first night out in her new enclosure and she obviously wasn’t impressed.    Thank goodness she was a friendly animal and all she wanted was to be in the warm with her “mum & dad”.

 Internal Paraphernalia

Shelters we have already discussed, but for food bowls we have found a simple round galvanised dish similar in shape to a large plant pot saucer is about the most effective.    They stay remarkably clean and are easy to clean when necessary, they do not tip easily, are very durable and are difficult for the animals to destroy.     (See figure 16).

Figure 16
This picture shows the type of food dish referred to in the text.    The animals in the picture are ‘Wombles’ a seventeen year old female (on the left) and her son ‘Basil’ (six years old), who has now sired three young of his own – one male, one female and one still pouch bound, sex unknown.

For water bowls, here again, we have found that the most effective are enameled washbowls placed inside a tyre.  As with the food dishes, these wash bowls are just about indestructible, very easy to clean and the tyre stops the bowl being emptied unintentionally.     They also fit very snugly into the centre of the tyre and often fit so well as to make them difficult to remove.    (See figure 18).  

Another good product to use as a water receptacle is old 20 litre black polythene containers of some sort.  They are often used for things like disinfectants, cleaning fluids etc and as they have a handle on the top you can use this to hold them in place and to stop them being tipped over. (See figure 17).  Cut them half being very careful to preserve each half of the handle, clean very very thoroughly, especially if you do not know what they have contained and stake to the ground through the handle hole.   Make sure they are black or white as these colours are UV stable and will not degrade in the sunlight.   They can be lifted off the stake for cleaning purposes. 

Figure 17
Polythene container cut in half and staked with a star dropper

Figure 18
An enamelled bowl placed inside an old tyre

I said earlier that I do not like access gates in a wombat enclosure but gates between enclosures are a different matter (see figure 19).    These are useful if   having to isolate an animal for whatever reason.    They are made in the fashion of a cat or dog flap that you might use in you home except that they are hinged a little above centre (to ensure that they always hang in the vertical position) and incorporate a bar at the top and bottom to be able to lock them off when you do not want to allow access into or out of each enclosure.

Figure 19
Wombat gate showing the normally closed position and the centre hinge which enables it to be locked off by sliding a bar through the posts on opposite side of the gate at the top and bottom.    By doing this you can allow the door to swing one direction only if so required.    It has worked very well for a number of years and our animals have no fear of it.

You will have realised by now that I am addicted to using treated pine (or Permapine if you like).    I like it because it is a very durable material; it looks good and is aesthetically pleasing.    I have never had any problems with it even when used for the construction of aviaries containing parrots and cockatoos.    Having said that, it does have some down sides that need to be watched.    One is it’s ‘mobility’.    It will move and twist with differing weather conditions so if you are using nails, staples or other fixing materials of this type, you will find that in time, (years rather than months), they will tend to ‘work out’.   Using nuts and bolts where you can will solve this problem but that’s not always possible or practical.    For this reason you need to keep an eye on it and make sure all your good work is not going to come adrift at some point in the future.  

Another less concerning downside is that it tends to age harden.     After it has been out in all weathers for a number of years it tends to become brittle and the last of the negatives, at least as far as I am concerned, is that it contains some pretty horrible chemicals; so if you do have critters that are likely to chew it, then protect it from them or don’t use it.    Note: If when you buy your poles they are still wet with the treatment be very careful how you handle it and always wash your hands after working with it, especially if you are going to eat.    If the timber is still very wet it is probably a better idea to put the job on hold for a while and let the timber dry out before you start.

 C.  Enclosures for the Common Wombat

 There is not really a great deal to add to what has gone before except to say that these animals are very good climbers and for that reason they would escaped from a wire sided enclosure quicker that you could say Vombatus ursinus.

Figure 20
A Common wombat enclosure with a 1200mm high corrugated iron fence to the left and a 900mm high one to the right which has a wire mesh ‘lean in’ at the top.

 This leaves us with a number of options.    You may wish to construct the enclosure using something unclimbable like standard fencing materials, brick or concrete, whatever takes your fancy or whatever will suit your location.    No matter what you decide, it must be higher than the animal can reach standing on its hind legs and also be of a material that the animal can not get a grip onto with its front paws.

For example, if you look at figure 20, the animal that was housed in this enclosure escaped (and was recaptured) by climbing out at this corner before the triangular piece of material was put in place across the top (does not show too well in this picture but is visible if you look carefully).     Unfortunately the animal concerned was big enough to stand on the bottom rail of the fence on the left and was able to reach the top of the fence to the right and haul himself over.   

 If you watch a common wombat using its front feet you will see that they can actually hold things, as you or I would, (but without the thumb of course) which is something the hairy-nosed cannot do.      If a common wombat can reach the top of a fence line, like the one illustrated at figure 20, with its front feet, it has enough strength in its forearms to be able haul itself up and over the top.

Figure 21
Another view of a common wombat enclosure showing two different types of overhang.    The mesh side of this enclosure was to allow airflow within it; otherwise it would have become a heat trap in summer
Note another example of my storm water gutter pipe over the feed shelter.

Before finishing up, there is perhaps one more type of wombat enclosure (for either species) that I should touch on and that is what I would call the ‘pit type’ or ‘concrete bunker’.          This is basically a pit dug to the same size and shape as the whole of the enclosure, to a depth of 11/2m (5ft) or so, which is then lined with concrete around the sides and bottom and then back filled.    The animal(s) can then do their own thing without fear of escape.   

 Personally I do not like this method as there are too many pitfalls (if you’ll excuse the pun) and I don’t believe, this type is conducive to breeding this animal in captivity, which let’s face it, is what we are trying to achieve

 If you do adopt this method, a great deal of thought needs to be given to the floor of the pit.    Allow plenty of drain holes and make sure it slopes in one direction preferably towards a pre planned drain to one side of the pit otherwise you will end up with a very muddy mess when it rains, and a very unhappy animal.    A way round this problem is, of course, to cover the whole thing with a roof of some sort; but why on earth would you want to keep a wombat under cover for the rest of its life.    This really defeats the whole purpose of the exercise.    What we are trying to do here is to create a captive situation as close to the animals’ natural habitat as possible.      A good compromise would be to use a very heavy galvanised reinforcing mesh for the floor of the ‘pit’     A well made enclosure using this method works very well but they are extremely expensive to build properly and probably best left to the “professionals”.    They are generally not suitable for you and me working on a limited budget.

 Perhaps before I close you will excuse me if I do a bit of trumpet blowing and put in a plug for myself.    You may or may not be aware that the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons) has, over the years, gained a reputation for being somewhat difficult to breed in captivity.    At the time of writing, (April 2002), we have now bred ten (10), and three of these have been sired by our first born.    I believe that our success is due to a number of factors, not the least of which is that we live in an area of natural wombat habitat (although at the time, with our first success, this was not the case).    Other factors I consider play a part are:-

 

a.            Large enclosures – the smallest enclosure is 30m x 9m and has since been extended;

b.            The animals are allowed to dig their own warren systems (although man made dens were provided initially);

c.            They are not overfed (they only get fed three times a week)

And so we come to the end of this diatribe.    I hope I haven’t bored you to death and as you can see from this last chapter, it has been a bit biased towards the wombat, for which I make no apology.     They are one of my favourite animals and I tend to get a bit carried away when talking about them.    Also their housing requirements are a little more complex than those of other creatures we have discussed and therefore need a lot more explanation.

Back to Part 4

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