Winter 2001

Wombat Attack


Bob Cleaver

In recent edition of “Keeping Marsupials” we seem to have been leaning heavily towards wombats, with Faith Walker’s article in our last issue and then a barbeque at Wombat Rise Sanctuary followed by a trip to Brookfield Conservation Park (which was set up for the Southern Hairy-nosed wombat) and now in this issue we have an article on the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. So, before we leave the subject of wombats, I thought the following email to the Society was timely. It also will show that these animals are not to be taken lightly and should be treated with a great deal of respect.

The emails are printed in their entirety with permission from the people concerned but with some minor editing (without compromising the content) to avoid any embarrassment.

—– Original Message —–

From: Name withheld


Sent: Tuesday, October 02, 2001 10:18 AM

Subject: wombat attack

Hullo there,

I’m not sure if you reply to individual enquiries…but thought I’d give it a go.

A couple of days ago, I visited my parents with my children at their tourist park. Within the park they have an animal compound with kangaroos, wallabies etc. Within the compound is a wombat enclosure. They (my parents) recently acquired a wombat which had been in captivity for a number of years prior to moving to its current residence.

My mother cut up some apple, and took us over to show off their new wombat. My youngest son (Jamie, aged 9) went to hand him the apple (in hindsight both my mother and myself should have known better!!) and the animal slowly got up and charged my son at great speed. First biting him severely on his hand. I tried to hold the wombat back, and my mother stepped in between my son and the animal – he then bit my mother on the foot. Meanwhile, Jamie tried to get away (the wombat had pushed him on his bottom) and the animal continued to charge at Jamie – biting him severely on his inner thigh. I jumped on the wombats back trying to hold him down so my son could get out of the enclosure. The whole time the animal was shaking his head and fighting to get away from me so he could get back to attacking Jamie.

After eventually escaping the enclosure Jamie’s wounds were inspected, and he was taken to a clinic. He now has very deep bites and severe bruising. His wounds have to be dressed twice a day and he is on a strong course of antibiotics. The last two nights he has had nightmares. My question is: Is this a normal response from a frightened wombat? Do they not bite just once, but continually ‘charge’? Without adult intervention, surely a wombat would be capable of almost killing a child?

We have all learnt a valuable lesson from our experience, unfortunately at a high cost. I’ve tried to look up information on the Internet for attacks on humans…but there does not seem to be any information available. Wondering if you could possibly find the time to give us a bit of information on the temperament of wombats.

Thank you in anticipation.

Name withheld

My reply to this was as follows:-

Hi ****,

Your email was passed to me for comment as we have been keeping wombats for close to twenty years.

Firstly let me say that I feel sorry for your son – I know what wombat bites feel like and believe me it is not pleasant. I hope he is OK.

Secondly let me say that this is typical wombat behaviour and particularly towards anybody that animal perceives as a threat or who is unfamiliar to the animal. It worries me considerably that the owner of a wildlife park would have allowed ANYONE to be within the confines of a wombat enclosure. He should have known better, and as for allowing a child into the enclosure is beyond belief!!!! I really do shudder at the thought.

We have sixteen wombats here and they are all treated with utmost respect.

please click on thumbnails to enlarge

Wombat Teeth

Showing how they can use the teeth in a scissoring motion

We have animals that we can handle and that we feel can be handled by strangers, but even under those circumstances they (the animals) needs to be watched closely and you need to know your animal. We also have “We bite” signs on all our enclosures.

Obviously we have to go into our animals enclosures to feed them and even with the friendly ones, they should never be trusted and you take your eyes off them at your peril. We have been caught off guard on the odd occasion, and have the scars to prove it, but those are the risks you take when keeping this type of animal but never, never, never, let a child into a wombat enclosure. It is simply asking for trouble. I would not even allow an adult into any of my enclosures. I’m sure the keepers at the zoo would not allow strangers to feed the lions – the same principle applies here.

Wombats can be dangerous animals and particularly when hand-raised as they have no fear of humans. They are delightful creatures to hand-raise and can be very affectionate, but generally only to the person who does the hand-raising. They can be positively dangerous around strangers.

I really don’t know what else to tell you except that I am still absolutely horrified that your son was allowed in that enclosure. I sincerely hope the park owner has learnt a very severe lesson, it’s just a pity that your son had to suffer along the way and it will certainly give him something to talk about for many years to come.

The correct way to hold or carry a wombat

If you ever find yourself in this situation again (God forbid) the best thing to do is to get hold of the animal from behind, scoop him up in your arms with your arms around his chest and under his front arms keeping the “sharp end” away from you. Once you have him off the ground in this manner he will kick and struggle but will basically be harmless, but you will have to hang on tight and not let go. (See picture right).

Can I ask what happened to the animal?

Let me just finish by saying that I have never heard of anyone being attacked in this manner before and I am convinced the reason is just sheer unadulterated stupidity on behalf of the park owner.

I apologise if this sounds a bit strong but that’s how I feel and the message needs to get home.

Good luck

Bob Cleaver

Wombat Rise Sanctuary

(08 8565 2131)

To which came the following reply.

Hi Bob,

Thank you very much for getting back to me so quickly. I only manage to get ‘online’ every few days (usually I have to battle with the children) at the time of sending you my original message, both Jamie and I were in a state of shock!! Firstly, I feel I must make it clear how the situation arose:

As I said, my parents own a tourist (caravan) park. Within the caravan park there is an animal enclosure with kangaroos, llama, wallabies etc. Within the large animal enclosure is a smaller enclosure built for the sole purpose of housing a wombat. The wombat was acquired only recently. A man is employed by my parents to tend the animal’s needs, and the general public has no access to either of the enclosures. On the public holiday Monday, he was not around when we visited, (my parents had watched him feed the wombat on several occasions) and my mother (my father wasn’t there on the day – He was HORRIFIED that we had let the children enter too) had the key to the compound…so took us over to feed the wombat a bit of apple…..and you know the rest of the story! In hindsight, both my mother and myself should certainly have known better – and mum is still kicking herself that she was so stupid, and of course I take responsibility too. We just didn’t think, and Jamie’s ‘nasty incident’ was the consequence! I guess like koalas, wombats are portrayed as cute, cuddly little animals……..boy can looks be deceiving!!!! So we certainly would NEVER attempt anything so silly again. And please be rest assured that it was a ‘privilege’ (I use that term loosely!) that we got in to see the wombat, and that the general public have no means of access into the enclosure under ANY circumstances.

Jamie’s leg is healing nicely now thanks to the course of antibiotics and daily dressing of the wound. The bruising is still very impressive. In fact, he’s looking forward to getting back to school….not too many children can brag of being attacked by a wombat!! Thanks to the lovely pictures you sent us (I had sent some pictures of one of our wombats in a much friendlier pose. Ed.) and the information you gave, Jamie is a little more forgiving of the wombat. I have explained to him that the incident was entirely our own fault (i.e. my mother and myself) and that any wild animal must be treated with a great deal of caution and respect. So once again, thank you.

You asked what happened to the animal (who is a male by the way). Nothing has happened to him, he continues to live and burrow happily in his enclosure. The man who tends the animals at the park still goes in the enclosure to feed him. He has also purchased signs to attach on the gate to alert people that he WILL bite – on the off chance that any person got with in the first enclosure.

Jamie and I are feeling a lot better about the whole episode now, and the nightmares have ceased. I really appreciate you taking the time to respond so in depth to our unusual enquiry. Thank you.

Kind Regards,

Name withheld

So there you have it. Let this be a warning to ANYONE who has the desire to keep one of these delightful, cute, and cuddly animals!

We still have a very friendly 18kg animal that lives in the house with us, but I don’t know for how much longer. She is referred to as our “teddy with teeth”