Wombat Burrows Serve as “Safe Havens” for Other Animals

Wombats are known for building deep and multi-chamber burrows that they use as their home. But it turns out that these burrows are coming in handy for other animals as well.

During devastating bushfires in Australia in 2019 and 2020, a story surfaced about wombats who are sheltering other animals from fire in their burrows. At the time, the story was dismissed as misinformation, but a recent study published in the Journal Of Mammalogy shows there might be some truth in it.

A team of researchers from Charles Sturt University set up 56 cameras, which recorded entrances in wombat burrows and nearby areas in the forests of Albury, New South Wales. After examining the footage, the researchers discovered that 56 different animal and bird species visited these burrows in the span of 10 months.

Some animals simply hang out by the burrows and its entrance, others use it for foraging, while 10 species were spotted entering or exiting the burrows on various occasions.

“Burrow use by several native wildlife species was highest in areas that burned most severely. This supports the idea that wombat burrows act as a kind of refuge for native wildlife after fire,” Grant Linley, lead author of the study and PhD candidate at Charles Sturt University, explains.

Study co-author Kita Ashman of WWF Australia adds that wombat burrows could not only help animals during fires but also help them deal with climate change.

“Wombats’ extensive burrow systems can create microhabitats that enhance water retention, assist in nutrient cycling and contribute to overall ecosystem resilience,” Ashamn said.