This summer, not only will we be featuring giant bugs and opening an all new Bug House, but there will also be a new mammal making its debut at the Houston Zoo: the wombat!

The wombat hails from Australia, and there are 3 types: the northern hairy-nosed, the southern hairy-nosed, and the common wombat. The Houston Zoo will be receiving two female common wombats from the Healesville Sanctuary in Australia, which is part of Zoos Victoria. There are only 6 zoos in North America that house wombats.

This is what a wombat looks like!

This is what a wombat looks like!

One of the reasons for this is that the permitting process can be quite extensive. It has taken nearly a year for the Houston Zoo to get through the process, and they haven’t even arrived yet! The curator of our John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo as well as one of our keepers in this area will be traveling to Australia soon to meet our wombats, receive important training on how to take care of them, and also to accompany them back to the US.

Wombats are marsupials, which means they are related to koalas and opossums, and they carry their young in a pouch. They behave a lot like prairie dogs or groundhogs, though, because they create burrows in the ground. A bony plate on their hind end helps protect them from predators when they are in their burrows – they stick out their rear for protection!

Speaking of the rear end of a wombat (bet you never thought you’d hear that phrase), probably the most interesting fact about them is that they literally poop cubes that look like dice – without the numbers, of course. Try throwing that little gem out at your next dinner party!

Did we mention that wombats are adorable? You probably noticed that from the photo above.

There are some important issues facing wombats in Australia. Because they are really good at digging, farmers often see them as pests. Wombats literally transform the landscape where they live – their tunnels can be 50-60 feet long…or more. And when you’re a farmer trying to plant crops, this can be particularly frustrating. There are ongoing efforts in Australia to educate farmers about wombats and to find ways to help them coexist without conflict.

The Houston Zoo is also contributing to conservation programs that help protect wombats. We have a long history in offering support for conservation efforts in Australia, mostly with koalas. We more recently have supported the Wombat Awareness Organization, Community for Coastal and Cassowary Conservation, and the Penguin Foundation Ltd. to assist with the Faerie Penguin Rehabilitation Project.

Stay tuned to learn when our wombats have arrived and when you can see them in their new habitat!

Thanks to Kevin and Ali in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo for the fantastic information contained in this blog!