2011 Summary from Richard Underwood Nature Refuge

Richard Underwood Nature Refuge after rains  Photo: Queensland Government

Richard Underwood Nature Refuge after rains  Photo: Queensland Government

The third year of the program began with a significant 2010-2011 wet season making the country green and healthy. In January 2011 the Balonne River flooded in St George, but the flood waters did not enter Richard Underwood Nature Refuge. The significant rainfall provided plentiful food for the wombats throughout the year.

This year saw the wombats at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge getting on with life after an 18 month settling in period. The wombats continued to modify the starter burrows that were initially constructed for them and they also began to start digging their own burrows. This burrow activity indicated positive adjustment to their new home.

Unveiling of the commemorative plague at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge  Photo: Queensland Government

Unveiling of the commemorative plague at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge  Photo: Queensland Government

Time to say thank-you

In April, the department hosted a gathering at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge to thank our partners in Xstrata mining company and the Underwood family (landholders), for their great contributions to establishing the second colony of northern hairy-nosed wombats.

Members of the local community also attended and a plaque commemorating the successful partnership between Xstrata and the department was unveiled during the festivities. This occasion coincided with the discovery of the first pouch young of the new colony.

Mother wombat with pouch young  Photo: Queensland Government

Mother wombat with pouch young  Photo: Queensland Government

Two wombat births in the reintroduced colony

In March 2011 it was confirmed that one of the female wombats was carrying a joey in her pouch. This was followed by news in April 2011 of a second female carrying a pouch young.

These births are significant milestones, and indicate that the reintroduction project has achieved the right conditions at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge to allow the wombats to breed. You can watch footage of the females with their bulging pouches on the department's YouTube channel.

The two female wombats carrying pouch young were watched closely using the remote monitoring cameras throughout the nature refuge. This was the first time that the progress of a northern hairy-nosed wombat pouch young was able to be tracked daily and the various stages recorded on camera. The video observations revealed new information not previously known about the species.

Joey leaves the burrow for the first time  Photo: Queensland Government

Joey leaves the burrow for the first time  Photo: Queensland Government

First joey emerges

In September 2011 both of the female wombats with expanding pouches were observed socialising together. The joeys started displaying signs of movement, with one even protruding a leg out of the pouch.

Soon after this burst of activity, one of the females was seen leaving her burrow with an empty pouch. The joey remained hidden in the burrow for a period of two weeks. During this time its mother was always close by and returned to the burrow frequently to feed the joey.

The first northern hairy-nosed wombat joey born at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge emerged from the burrow and took its first steps above ground on the night of 3 October 2011.

This was the first time that the first emergence of a northern hairy-nosed joey had been captured on film. The joey emerged from the burrow just two weeks after its mother was first seen leaving the burrow without it in her pouch. This was a much shorter time than anticipated by researchers.

View the video of the joey on the department's YouTube channel.

Two joeys with one of the mother wombats  Photo: Queensland Government

Two joeys with one of the mother wombats  Photo: Queensland Government

Second joey is out and about

Also in October, images of a second wombat joey at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge were recorded. The second wombat joey was seen to be playful and interacting with its mother on its maiden journey above ground.

In this footage you can see how the mother and joey interact with each other.

View the video of the joey on the department's YouTube channel.

New camera set-up to monitor wombats  Photo: Queensland Government

New camera set-up to monitor wombats  Photo: Queensland Government

Updated cameras

In time for the emergence of the joeys, a new series of surveillance cameras were installed at the wombat burrows. These new cameras allow researchers to observe interaction between wombats in much greater detail.

The new cameras have high definition capabilities, are smaller in size and lighter in weight. They are improved by having black LED lights, meaning the wombats cannot see any flash light when a camera is activated. The new set-up provides a low maintenance system as the cameras are powered by an external battery and continuously charged via a solar panel.

Pest cactus 'tiger pear' has been removed in large quantities  Photo: Queensland Government

Pest cactus 'tiger pear' has been removed in large quantities  Photo: Queensland Government

Habitat management

Habitat management for the wombats continues at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge. In winter 2011 there was a fuel reduction burn conducted on a section of the nature refuge. This fire also provided a large area of green pick as food for the wombats over the months that followed. Fire management will be an ongoing task, essential to reduce the risk of a potential lightening strike burning the refuge out completely in dryer times.

Tiger pear, a low-growing and easily spread pest cactus, can potentially cause the wombats some discomfort with its sharp spines. The removal of tiger pear continues and a large improvement is evident to date.