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Experts question reports of wombats’ heroic bushfire efforts

The only problem is – it’s not true.

Greenpeace NZ later edited their post to explain they had found out the initial posts were not accurate and did not seem to be based on actual observed incidents.

It is possible they were sparked by an opinion piece by children’s author Jackie French, the author of Diary of a Wombat, among other books, who wrote evocatively about the resilient bushfire response of her local community, including the line: “I have seen wombats share their holes with snakes, quolls, possums and a nervous swamp wallaby.”

A wombat seen in Kangaroo Valley in NSW following a bushfire.

A wombat seen in Kangaroo Valley in NSW following a bushfire.Credit:Wolter Peeters

In reality, wombats are strongly territorial animals who rarely let other wombats, let alone other species, share their burrows.

However, Associate Professor Steve Johnston from the University of Queensland said the tales of wombat altruism might still have some grain of truth to them.

“A lot of those wombat burrows could be empty, so animals could easily make their way into those burrows to escape the fire,” Professor Johnston said.

“Wombats will often make a burrow system and then move on, so those empty burrows become open [to other animals].”

In extreme situations such as fire, he conceded it was possible a wombat would tolerate other animals in its burrow, but would not be welcoming them in.

“In some cases there’s long entrances to some of these burrows and they go for long distances, sometimes tens of metres,” he said.


“I suspect those sorts of burrows, particularly the entrances of them, wombats wouldn’t be terribly fussed about other animals sheltering there.”

It’s estimated about a billion animals have died in the infernos that have torn through many parts of the country.

Even if animals survived, possibly by sheltering in a wombat burrow, experts say they will face a fight for food and more permanent shelter in the burned-out landscape.

The federal government has announced $50 million specifically to respond to the issue of displaced wildlife, with the money to be split between an emergency intervention fund and wildlife groups.

The Queensland government meanwhile has announced $250,000 in grants for wildlife carers, with animal hospitals inundated with thousands of animals since the fires began.

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