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Australian Environmental Issues

Blue-tongue
A true-blue battler

Box jellyfish
How to avoid the stings and what to do if stung

Crocodile
So you wrestle crocs...

Dingo
Unfairly judged in killing off the thylacine?

Echidna
The wise little gnomes of Australia

Emu
Victors of the great Emu war

Flies
Shaping everything from how Australians speak to how they salute

Funnel Web spider
Yyou'll never leave your ugg boots outside

Kangaroo
Most herbivores don't grow a spine until they are the size of an elephant. Not so the roo.

Snakes
Kill less people than cows

Shark attack Australia
How to ensure you don't go by the name of Bob

Tasmanian Devil
The solution to mainland extinctions?

Tasmanian Tiger
A sad tale

Wombat
Keg of muscle

Quoll
The mainland's largest marsupial carnevore

Mythical creatures
Yowies and dropbears; some say they are myths but those who are not afraid to talk have shared their stories

 

 

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Wombat and baby

The Wombat

Keg of muscle

"Strangely, it tends to be the second class of animals (the Odd) that are more dangerous. The creature that kills the most people each year is the common Wombat. It is nearly as ridiculous as its name, and spends its life digging holes in the ground, in which it hides." Douglas Adams

Most backpackers don't consider their Australian holiday to be complete unless they've seen a Kangaroo and a Koala. But there is one Australian creature that is just as peculiar as its celebrated compatriots, yet is often forgotten from the list of "must see" Australians animals. The humble Wombat is one of the strongest burrowing animals in the world. They can out dig a man with a shovel; they can dig in the hardest of soil, and about the only things that stop them are solid rock or loose sand.

An odd-looking animal, they resemble the offspring one might expect if a rat mated with a teddy bear. Their legs are short and stumpy while their body is round like a beer keg. Despite this stumpy frame, a Wombat in full flight can hit speeds of 36km/h. This is faster than an Olympic sprinter.

Wombats have large brains and this is reflected in their playfulness, which is seen as a measure of intelligence. Out of all Australian marsupials, Wombats are the most playful, and use their free time to head butt one another, running away to solicit a chase and indulging in shoulder rolls and somersaults.

Sadly, many people naively judge Wombats as stupid on the basis of their habit of charging straight through obstacles, rather than casually walking around them. But such superficial judgements once again show how first impressions can be deceiving. By going through obstacles, Wombats are clearing running tracks from their burrows to ensure they have straight line escape routes if surprised by a predator.

Once in their burrow, any dog or fox insane enough to follow them risks being confronted with a rounded bum, covered with very tough skin, which is difficult to bite. If the assailant attempts to crawl over the bum, the Wombat will suddenly push up with its powerful legs, crushing the attacker into the ceiling of the burrow. This can break the attacker's nose, paw or jaw. If the assailant lingers in the burrow for too long, the Wombat may decide to back up and use its bum to crush the invader into the burrow wall.

Aside from using it for protection, the Wombat also makes good use of its bum to produce its most famous novelty, square poos. These poos are then deposited the stones, logs and mushrooms that Wombats use to mark the boundary of their territory. Because each poo is flat on six sides, the Wombat is able to manoeuvre his bum into some hard to get at places, make a deposit and be confident his hard work isn't going to be undone by the poo rolling away.

Despite being cute, nowadays they pose a danger to humans when they wander on roads and are hit by passing motorists. A huge barrel of muscle with a low centre of gravity, Wombats may act as a launching ramp that sends the car skywards and off the road.

Sometimes the wounded Wombat survives. If picked up and taken to an animal refuge organisation, motorists should try to cover their eyes as when frightened, they will try to push their head into a hole, such as the space under a car seat. With such powerful muscles, they can do a great job getting their head wedged and the whole seat may need to be unbolted.

 

FatsoQuestions to think about
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Below are examples of the image of the Wombat being used in popular culture. For each example, try to speculate what the designers/selectors were hoping to achieve by using the image of the Wombat.  

1) The Wombat is the unsung hero of Australian animals, and doesn't even appear on the Australian currency. As one zoologist explained:

"With the innocent faced, engaging koala people fall in love at first sight; but the clumsy looking grumby wombat seldom makes a friend among humans. "

But during the 2000 Olympics, the Wombat got some long overdue recognition when Roy and HG unveiled their mascot, the lewd and rude Fatso the Fat Arsed Wombat; aka the battler's prince.

Fatso's pose was that of a perpetual moon wearing a pair of Dunlop Volleys. Comic animations depicted him waddling across the TV screen leaving little nuggets as a reminder of his grace.

Fatso caused a frenzied sensation; joining Gold Medallists like Michael Klim, Susie O'Neil and Grant Hackett on the winners' dais.

So popular in fact, he undermined attempts to sell the the official, and very generic, Olympic mascots, Millie, Ollie and Syd. As Fatso's star rose, the IOC's tall poppy syndrome reared its ugly head and they tried to cut Fatso down by banning athletes appearing with him. Public opinion, flamed by the outraged Roy and HG, later forced the IOC to retreat in embarrassment. 

As well as undermining the IOC's marketing campaign, Fatso undermined that of the Australian Organising Committee. The AOC's $15 million campaign was geared towards the famous Boxing Kangaroo which they had bought from former Australian of the year, Alan Bond. But against Fatso, the Kangaroo appeared well past its prime and was quickly dealt a knock out blow. 

Despite calls to mass-produce the battler's prince, Roy and HG refused on the basis they didn't want to cheapen Fatso with any kind of crude commercialisation. The one and only fat arsed wombat was later sold at auction for $80,000 with the proceeds given to charity.

2) The Wombat is the faunal emblem of South Australia.

Industry

Below are methods that could allow some people to make money out of the Wombat. How do you think working in each industry would affect attitudes to the Wombat?

1) Meat - As the Wombat is a huge keg of prime muscle with a high fat content, there could be a lucrative trade in raising them for the abattoir.

However farming them is difficult as if they are enclosed, they will tunnel their way to freedom. Like fellow escape artists the Kangaroo and the Echidna, any enclosure of a Wombat requires a much greater financial investment than that required of a cow, horse or sheep. Such an investment would unlikely deliver a return as so few Australians would be willing to eat them. 

2) Pets - Wombats would be a difficult pet but not an impossible one. The main problem is that they are extremely powerful diggers that like to hide. If kept as pets in suburbia, they could make a mess of carpets, flower beds, fences and anything else that stands in the way of their desire to dig, explore or hide.

Create a cartoon wombat

Fatso the Fat Arsed Wombat showed that native animals can be more interesting when they have a bit of character about them

  1. Draw a cartoon Wombat
  2. Give the Wombat a name
  3. Is the Wombat male or female
  4. What accent will the Wombat speak with?
  5. Write something about the Wombat's character
  6. Choose a pair of shoes for the Wombat to wear.

 

 

 

Invasive ferals

Carp

Carp and Trout
A tale of two ferals

New hope for Cane Toads
The many unknown predators of the toad

Rabbits
A fence almost 2,000 km long to keep rabbits out of WA? Sounds like a great idea! If it doesn't work, we'll build another one!

The Willow
How a change in its status from asset to weed led to fish kills with blackwater and blue-green algae outbreaks

To bait dingos?
Should the health of the ecosystem be considered or just the kennel club registration?

Koala control
What to do about the "koala plague" on Kangaroo Island

Cat
Apex predator in Australia. Confined to urban areas in America.

Environmental values

Environmental problems
How money and ideology shapes environmental "science."

Bushfire
Australia's Stockholm Syndrome with gum trees.

The Kangaroo industry
Should we eat skippy?

Climate change in Australia
Australia was once covered in rainforest. Could it be again?

Sustainability
The dark side of sustainable environmental policies

Native pets
Why no pet wombats?

 

 

       

Australian environmental science is defined by an ideology that is not unlike a prison warden. There, the scientists are not seeing themselves as part of the ecosystem, but as masters over it; protecting the rights of the species that they say have rights and killing those that they say do not…but inevitably killing both.

"It was always seen as desirable to remove or cull the introduced species. We also need to ask whether it was possible to do so, how it should be done, whether it could have unintended consequences and what it would cost? I don't think anyone really asked those questions." Physicist John Reid - 2012