24 June 2024


Pictures sent to the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia appear to show something extraordinary: a wombat sharing its burrow with a fox and her cub at Murrays Run in the Lower Hunter Valley region of New South Wales.

One of the largest burrowing mammals in the world has been known to sometimes tolerate other harmless species in its underground home.

But accepting a large predator like a fox seems highly unusual, especially when there are claims that wombats have killed foxes.

Yet the sensor camera recorded a remarkable series of comings and goings on the same night indicating the animals were using the burrow at the same time. This behaviour continued for the four days the camera was in place.

A sensor camera image shows a wombat entering the burrow at 6.48pm. © Supplied
Two minutes later a fox cub emerges. © Supplied

The landholder, who wished to be anonymous, shared the images after reading about new research WWF-Australia supported which showed wombat burrows provide critical shelter for numerous species following severe wildfire.

What makes his pictures fascinating is that wombats are known to be less than friendly with foxes. In her book Wombats, Barbara Triggs wrote about an angry wombat chasing a fox out of its home.

Because the crushed skulls of foxes and dogs have been found outside burrows, some believe wombats use their hard rumps to crush foxes, dingos, and wild dogs against the walls of their burrows. In 2020, a Mange Management Facebook post showing a dead fox beside a wombat in a borrow entrance reignited this theory.

Wildlife rescuer and carer Narelle Thompson said over the years a few people have told her they have witnessed a wombat killing a fox, particularly a female wombat with a joey.

“I was told the female wombat lays flat in the entrance giving the fox a false sense of assurance that it’s ok to climb over her back. Once the fox is in place, she stands up and crushes the fox between her hard armoured butt and the roof of the burrow. That’s why I find it extremely unusual for a wombat to be sharing its home with a fox. But stranger things have happened,” Ms Thompson said.

Katja Gutwein from Mange Management said a landholder her nonprofit with witnessed an epic battle of wills between a wombat and a fox.

“The fox tried to take over the wombat’s burrow and each day it would carry vegetation in to create bedding. Each night the indignant wombat would turf out the fox’s bedding. This went on for days until in the end the fox gave up,” said Ms Gutwein.

A dead fox beside a wombat in a burrow entrance in Central Victoria. One theory is that the wombat killed the fox by using its hard rump to crush the fox against the burrow wall. © Mange Management

The landholder who recorded the remarkable burrow-sharing by the fox and wombat set out to find the fox after a disturbing incident.

“There are eastern grey kangaroos and swamp wallabies on our 40 hectare property which backs onto Olney State Forrest. I’d been finding dead wallaby joeys. Then one day my wife and I were horrified to see a fox jump up and bite open the neck of a wallaby.

“We chased the fox away but the wallaby could not be saved. I found a wombat burrow and outside the entrance was a partially eaten possum, a couple of bird carcases, and the remains of a small marsupial.

“I trained the sensor camera at the burrow entrance to confirm there was a resident fox. What I didn’t expect was to record a wombat sharing its burrow with a predator. Everyone I’ve spoken to was amazed by this behaviour,” he said.

Given the carnage the fox was causing, the landholder humanely destroyed the fox. He believes the cub, which was approaching maturity, dispersed because it was not seen again.

A 2022 study found foxes kill about 300 million native mammals, birds and reptiles each year, and together with cats have played a major role in most of Australia’s 34 mammal extinctions.

As for the wombats on his property, the landholder treated them for mange. He is happy to report they now all appear healthy. In this year’s flood they boldly crossed swollen waterways on his property.

The resident swamp wallaby joeys are safe again. © Supplied