Their cuteness is undeniable, but do wombats make good pets? It might seem so, given their chunkiness, bumbling nature, and cuddly look, but the answer may surprise you. Historically misidentified as some kind of badger by early European colonizers of Australia, the word ‘wombat’ actually comes from an ancient Aboriginal language. Wombats are one of several extant species of marsupial native to Australia; they’re particularly common in the southern and eastern parts of the country. Today, there are three distinct species of wombat, and all are protected under Australian law.
Here, we’ll learn more about wombats, and whether or not they make good pets. But first of all, let’s see what wombats are.
What is a Wombat?
The most common wombat, the one people are normally referring to when they talk about wombats, is the common wombat (Vombatus ursinus). This wombat can be found in the coastal lands of New South Wales and Victoria, as well as on the islands of Tasmania. Two additional species exist; the southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latrifrons), which can be found on the coasts of South Australia, and the northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii), which can be found in one tiny part of inland Queensland.
If you’re wondering whether wombats make good pets, it’s a good idea to know a little more about them. Wombats are marsupials (pouch-bearing mammals) with backward-facing pouches. Similar to hares and rabbits, they burrow in the ground and subsist on grasses and forbs. Wild wombats live up to 15 years, while captive wombats live up to 30 years. They range in weight from 40-70 pounds, have short, stubby legs, and rectangular bodies equipped with sharp claws and large incisors.
Can a Wombat be a Pet?
They may be adorable, but wombats do not make good pets. They’re best loved from a safe distance in a zoo or sanctuary setting. Currently, it is illegal to own a wombat in Australia, and it’s illegal to export them out of Australia.
Wombats might seem like cute, cuddly options for pets, but there are many reasons (aside from the legal) that make them a bad choice for a housemate. Let’s take a look at the top three.
1. Wombats are Wild Animals
Though wombats may start out friendly, they’re wild animals, and quickly become standoffish and even aggressive towards humans. No matter how much you might want to cuddle a wombat, it does not want to cuddle you back. This is especially true of wild wombats; if you see a wild wombat, do not attempt to pet it.
2. Wombats are Destructive
All wombats are natural burrowers. In the wild, they dig elaborate tunnel systems that are the bane of farmers. The instinct to burrow does not go away just because the wombat is indoors, or in a yard. They can dig through just about everything, except for concrete and steel. Any pet wombat would quickly wreak havoc on doors, walls, and floors.
3. Are Wombats Dangerous?
With their formidable teeth and claws, wombats are more than capable of inflicting serious bites and scratches. Additionally, they’re exceptionally solidly built and can knock people down when charging. Wombats do not make good pets, and should only be handled by trained wildlife professionals. They may be cute, but they prefer to be left alone and will defend themselves if pressed.
4. Are Wombats Endangered?
Regardless of whether or not wombats make good pets, all three extant species are protected by Australian law. The northern hairy-nosed wombat is extremely endangered, and faces threats from low population, wild dogs, and lack of food due to livestock competition. The southern hairy-nosed wombat is listed as near threatened. This species may become endangered if measures are not taken to ensure the viability of remaining populations.
Wombats weren’t always a protected species; they used to be popular sources of bushmeat. Wombat stew was once an Australian staple. However, declining populations of this uniquely Australian species brought an end to their being hunted for meat. Today, wild wombats still face threats from farmers, Tasmanian devils, dingoes, and wild dogs, as well as disease and dwindling food in places where cattle and sheep cohabitate.
Things You Can Do to Help Wild Wombats
If you’re one of the many people disappointed that you can’t have a wombat as a pet, consider joining a wombat conservation group. Organizations like the Wombat Protection Society of Australia and the Australian Wildlife Society are constantly working to conserve and protect wombats. You can make donations, report sightings (which helps maintain accurate measures of population and range), or become a member.
If you want to do even more, and live in Australia, consider joining one of the many wombat rescue organizations. You can even take a trip to the zoo to see wombats in person. There, a wildlife expert can tell you all there is to know about these thick, adorable diggers. Just remember; they may be cute, but wombats do not make good pets, and should never be forced to live in residential captivity.
Bonus: Are Wombats Intelligent?
For most of mankind’s interaction with wombats, humans have mislabeled wombats as unintelligent due to their appearance of being slow and sluggish. However, recent studies of these fascinating creatures have revealed quite the opposite–wombats are actually one of the more intelligent creatures native to Australia, having the biggest brains of all marsupials.
One example of the wombat’s intelligence lies in its ability to navigate through complicated routes, utilizing markers in their habitat to find their way back to their burrows. In one study, researchers set up traps at the entrances to certain wombat burrows. Amazingly, the wombats hunkered down for a time, refusing to exit, then burrowed out a new exit, thus avoiding the trap.
Other qualities wombats possess are inquisitiveness, at times leading them to be comfortable around humans. They can also be obstinate, and exhibit great determination when it comes to completing a task they set their minds to.
A group of wombats is called “a wisdom of wombats.” Is this moniker perhaps a nod to these creatures’ innate intelligence?
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Sander Groffen/Shutterstock.com
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