Recently, stories and social media posts lauding wombats as the “heroes of the Australian bushfires” have been making their rounds on the Internet.
There have been several claims about the furry creature, native to Australia, shepherding and sharing their burrows with other displaced wildlife as a result of the bushfires, which have possibly taken a billion animal lives.
As heartwarming and sweet these wombat stories are, they are, unfortunately, not entirely true.
Many Twitter users picked it up, believing that wombats are the furry heroes doing their part to protect other animals, to the extent of shepherding other animals to their burrows.
God: you’re a wombat.
Wombat: what does that mean?
God: you live underground in a burrow.
Wombat: mind if I share my home with other animals?
God: why would you do that?
Wombat: so they can pay me rent lol.
God: how much do you charge?
Wombat: just their friendship : )
— Oops!…I Dad It Again (@NewDadNotes) January 14, 2020
So wombats are my favourite animal and I just found out they’re making room in their burrows for other animals and physically herding them in! Wild life is amazing, we must protect it ❤️🥰 pic.twitter.com/4SdzXGxWK0
— Deligracy (@Deligracy) January 14, 2020
However, that’s not entirely true, as they didn’t heroically round up helpless animals during the bushfires and lead them to safety.
According to ABC News Australia, wombat warrens (networks of burrows) are large and complex, and considerably shielded from the above-ground environment.
Wombats can have several burrows within their home range, and a study in 2012 connected one wombat to 14 burrows.
A wombat usually spends a few nights sleeping in one burrow, before moving to another one later.
They would have a few vacant burrows at a time, and even some abandoned ones, so other species seeking refuge may not need to share burrows with wombats at all.
Wombats have become accidental heroes during our devastating bushfire crisis. pic.twitter.com/vstHSi9rL3
— news.com.au (@newscomauHQ) January 15, 2020
Uncommon for wombats to welcome visitors
While this has not been thoroughly researched, observations have shown that wombats generally do not welcome other animals in their burrows.
In a book, Wombats, by Barbara Triggs, the author recalls a fox being chased from a burrow by an angry wombat.
Crushed skulls of foxes and dogs found in wombat burrows also suggest that not many intruders are welcome.
Again, it may depend on what type of animal is visiting its burrow, as those that do not pose a threat may not be noticed by the wombat.
So, although wombats didn’t intentionally open their homes to other animals to escape the bushfires, their extra burrows have indirectly helped displaced wildlife in Australia by providing temporary refuge.
Top image via beauty.of.animalsss/IG, MNinitiative/Twitter