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Wombats Share Their Burrows With Animals Displaced In Bushfires, Experts Say

by : Julia Banim on : 12 Jan 2020 13:34
Wombats Share Their Burrows With Animals Displaced In BushfiresWombats Share Their Burrows With Animals Displaced In Bushfirescouchy/sefiebee/Flickr

Wombats have been known to share their burrows with animals who have been displaced during past bushfire crises.

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Stories of the gentle heroism of wombats have flooded social media at this difficult time and have brought a little sense of hope during a devastating moment in Australia’s recent history, given the current bushfire crisis.

Accounts drawing from examples of behaviour recorded by ecologists during previous bushfires suggest various small animals could be evading death after sheltering in wombat burrows. However, this behaviour has yet to be documented since this unprecedented crisis began.

WombatWombatWikimedia Commons

An Instagram post shared by Greenpeace New Zealand cites reports stating ‘countless small animals have escaped death because wombats, unusually, opted to share their massive, complex burrows’.

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It was originally reported that wombats have been spotted exhibiting ‘shepherding’ behaviour, herding at risk animals to safety.

However, Greenpeace New Zealand have confirmed these ‘shepherding’ reports – which originated from a social media post posted in Australia – have since turned out to be false.

Those who have been left devastated by the ongoing destruction of Australia’s beautiful and varied wildlife have been uplifted by these reports, describing these sweet creatures as ‘true superheroes’.

One person commented:

Apparently wombats in fire effected [sic] areas are not only allowing other animals to take shelter in their deep, fire-resistant burrows but are actively herding fleeing animals into them.

We’re seeing more leadership and empathy from these guys than the entire Federal government.

Another said:

Omg! this is both heartwarming and heartbreaking! Wombats in fires allow other animals to shelter with them in their burrows, and are actively herding them in. The saddest and most beautiful thing I’ve read today.

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As much we want this Disney movie-esqe story of animal selflessness to be 100% true, these latest reports do appear to be based on – currently unconfirmed – anecdotes.

However, there is certainly a precedent for small animals such as lyrebirds and wallabies seeking shelter in wombat burrows, as detailed in a new article published in Nature.

Michael Clarke, ecologist at La Trobe University in Bundoora, Melbourne, said:

Animals like koalas that live above ground in small, isolated populations and that have a limited capacity to flee or discover unburnt patches of forest are in all sorts of trouble.

During past fires, we’ve seen some really surprising creative behaviours, like lyrebirds and wallabies going down wombat burrows to escape fire. But a large majority of animals are simply incinerated. Even really big, fast-flying birds like falcons and crimson rosellas can succumb to fire.

Our thoughts are with the people of Australia who continue to be affected by the catastrophic bushfire crisis.

UNILAD has reached out to ecologist Michael Clarke for comment.

You can donate to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal here, with all funds raised going towards giving immediate support to those whose lives have been greatly affected by the blaze.

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Queensland residents can formally register as a volunteer in the ongoing bushfire effort at Emergency Volunteering or by calling Volunteering Queensland on 1800 994 100.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: Animals, Australia, Burrows, Bushfires, Wombats

Credits

Australian Natural History and 2 others
  1. Australian Natural History

    Wildlife in Australia

  2. greenpeacenz/Instagram

    greenpeacenz/Instagram

  3. Nature

    ‘Deathly silent’: Ecologist describes Australian wildfires’ devastating aftermath