(from left) Wombat joey in mom's pouch; baby and Kambora; joey nursing from mother Kambora.
Newborn animals are notoriously hard to see, often clinging so tightly to Mom that visitors are hard pressed to get a good view. But few can hide as well as the new wombat joey (a joey is a baby marsupial) in Australia House.
Although the baby was born last July, keepers were only recently able to get a decent look at it. That’s because the joey, like all southern hairy-nosed wombats, spent its first six months inside its mother’s pouch.
Brookfield Zoo is one of only four zoos in North America to exhibit southern hairy-nosed wombats and Australia House is currently home to four wombats: Carver, 34-year-old male born at Brookfield Zoo; Kambora, 8 (born at San Diego Zoo), her two-year-old daughter Goldie, and the new joey.
The newcomer began venturing out of the pouch last month, first only exposing a head or leg. Now the youngster is regularly exploring the exhibit solo, though never venturing too far from mother Kambora and the comfort of her pouch.
The not-yet-named joey is something of an early riser. Many joeys are completely pouch-bound for a full eight months. And even this relatively precocious juvenile spends a good part of each day tucked safely inside mom’s pouch.
Visit Australia House in the coming weeks, and you have a decent chance of seeing the newcomer, even if it’s not out and about. You may catch a glimpse of a head or limb poking out of Kambora’s pouch—or see the outline of the joey wriggling around inside.
Want to find out more about wombats before you visit? Here are a few facts you can tuck away:
Essential Wombat Facts
Like all marsupials, wombats carry their young in pouches. Typically, females give birth between September and December after just 21 days of gestation. Immediately after birth, the tiny joey – about the size of a bumblebee – crawls to the pouch, clinging tightly to mom’s fur as it goes. Once inside, the joey nurses and continues to grow. For the next six to eights months, the joey is completely dependent on its mother for protection and nourishment. By about month nine, the joey is ready leave the pouch permanently, but may return to the pouch occasionally and continue to suckle until 15 months of age.
There are few animals that are better adapted to life on grasslands and plains of central South Australia. The squat-bodied southern hairy-nosed wombats munch on tough, coarse vegetation. A wombat’s teeth continue to grow throughout its life to accommodate strenuous chewing. And its digestive system makes efficient use of the vegetation, helping the animal survive periods when food is scarce.
Southern hairy-nosed wombats live in complex tunnel systems called warrens, each of which has multiple entrances. Five to ten wombats live together in a warren, often with an equal ratio of males to females. The wombat’s habitat typically extends 6 to 10 acres beyond the warrens, providing the species with plenty of space in which to look for food.