Wombats are large, herbivorous burrowing mammals. They spend most of the day inside their warrens to avoid the heat and predators. As a result, you might see these native animals in the morning, evening, or at night in places like native scrub, agricultural areas, or along roadsides when they come out to eat foods such as grass, roots, shrubs, and bark.

There are 2 species of wombat found in South Australia, the common (bare-nosed) wombat (Vombatus ursinus) and the southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons). Both species are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (NPW Act) with the common wombat listed as ‘rare’ under the same Act.

L: the common wombat has short limbs, thick claws and a squat, muscular statue (photo: Martin Stokes). R: the southern hairy-nosed wombat is a smaller species, characterised by a broad hairy nose and long ears (photo: Martin Stokes)

Common wombats and southern hairy-nosed wombats average around one metre in length and can weigh between 20 - 32 kg.

Wombats live in complex warren systems, usually made up of many interconnected burrows, and move between several warrens within their home range. They are usually solitary creatures and are slow to reproduce, giving birth to just one offspring every 2 years or so. Common wombat joeys can stay in their mother's pouch for about 6 months, while young southern hairy-nosed wombats might remain in the pouch for up to 9 months.

Common wombats live in south-eastern South Australia along the coast from the Coorong south to the Victorian border, extending as far north as the Bordertown area. They are also found in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

Southern hairy-nosed wombats, once widespread in the semi-arid regions of southern Australia, are now confined to South Australia and the far southwest of Western Australia. In South Australia, populations are found in the Murraylands, the Yorke Peninsula, the far west coast, the western Eyre Peninsula, northwest of Lake Gardiner, and the Gawler Ranges.

Wombat populations in South Australia are affected by factors like habitat destruction and fragmentation, genetic isolation, illegal destruction, loss of preferred food plants, and competition with domestic stock and feral animals. Drought can also greatly affect wombat numbers, and it takes at least 3 good seasons before the adult wombat population starts to grow.

Wombats are sometimes found in areas that have been developed for cropping and grazing. This can lead to situations where humans and wombats come into contact, including their burrows and warrens. Impacts caused by wombats and their homes can sometimes be significant and costly.

If you have wombats living on your property, you may be experiencing some impacts such as:

  • digging and burrowing causing damage and instability to infrastructure (e.g. roads, fences, dams)
  • unstable, hollow ground causing damage to machinery (e.g. tractors, headers)
  • erosion
  • crop damage through grazing and fouling by wombat faeces
  • grazing competition with livestock.

Although these impacts may be concerning, it’s important to remember wombats are not a pest and both species are protected by the NPW Act. This protection means that if you need to manage wombats or their burrows, you may need a permit issued by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

We can learn to live with wombats more harmoniously by understanding their behaviour and managing any impacts they cause in an integrated way, with a focus on non-lethal methods.

Non-lethal management activities that can reduce impacts caused by wombats include:

  • identifying and marking wombat burrows with star droppers or on a georeferenced map so they can be avoided to prevent damage to machinery
  • preventing digging underneath housing or other farm buildings by installing a heavy gauge mesh or a buried wire apron
  • making fence alterations, such as:
    • removing the bottom wire in areas where wombats are allowed, to allow them to pass underneath without damaging the fencing
    • installing fencing to prevent wombat access to infrastructure, such as dams or buildings
    • installing a gate to allow wombats to move freely through a fence without damaging it. One-way gates can also be fitted to a burrow to prevent wombats re-entering.
  • collapsing wombat burrows or warrens in line with appropriate guidelines to avoid injury to the animals – see managing wombats.

Lethal control methods may be considered for impact causing wombats where non-lethal management options have been explored and land managers have obtained a permit to destroy wildlife. For more information see managing wombats.

Wombats are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (NPW Act). It is an offence to catch, interfere with, harass or kill protected wildlife under the NPW Act without a permit. The ill treatment of animals is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 1985.

The laws around destroying burrows were amended in 2023, please see protection for wombat burrows for information and FAQs.

Wild facts

  • The common wombat is the largest burrowing herbivorous mammal.
  • Wombats play an important role in ecosystems by breaking up hard soil and recycling organic material through the earth.
  • A wombat’s pouch faces backwards so dirt does not enter when burrowing.
  • Wombats have toughened rumps that are used as a defence against predators.
  • Wombats can run at speeds of up to 40 km per hour.