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Inside our favourite story of 2020: That wombats are saving fellow animals from the fires.

This week, a story about wombats emerged as a beacon of hope amidst our country’s devastation.

Wombats – the short-legged, typically territorial marsupial – were seen inviting fleeing animals into their burrows during the bushfire disaster.

A viral tweet stated wombats are “actively herding” animals into their homes.

And this wasn’t the only account of wombats demonstrating ‘shepherding’ behaviour, with others also sharing their sightings of the mammal sharing their burrow.

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The usually unfriendly species was demonstrating camaraderie in the face of catastrophe. And we loved it.

But… is this, in fact, true?

It’s almost a question you don’t want to fact-check. Right now, we need something to distract us from the horror our animals are experiencing – with an estimated one billion animals dying as a result of the fires – and wombats being generous is the perfect antidote.

But we did. And here are the answers.

Mamamia spoke to Associate Professor Mathew Crowther from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney to get to the bottom of the wombats.

Crowther states it is unlikely wombats are “actively herding” other animals into their burrows during the bushfires.

“Wombats aren’t really social with other animals,” Crowther says. “They’re usually very intolerant of animals going into their burrows.”

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“It would be nice if they did,” the professor admits, “but they don’t do that type of thing.”

Even so, what if in the face of this environmental crisis, wombats decided to help the helpless?

“It’s not likely that they’ll change their behaviours and suddenly become good Samaritans.”

And then Crowther ever-so slighty concedes. “But, the wombats may be more concerned about things other than animals in their burrows. If there’s something like a bushfire, maybe they’re not concerned about the other animals.”

Plus, this isn’t to say that wombats aren’t the cape-less heroes of the fire-affected fauna.

They do ultimately bore burrows, which are a significant reason for why many animals will outlive these fires.

“A lot of animals survive by going into burrows during the bushfires. Wombat burrows can be quite deep, and so it is a natural place for a lot of these animals to go.”

So when these animals do find refuge in the burrows, and the wombats are there too, he believes the territorial mammals either “weren’t bothered or haven’t noticed.”

Which, if they “weren’t bothered”, is a big step in character development. (I think.)

Ultimately, wombats have built the homes that have provided shelter for animals who, just like us, are facing unprecedented conditions in their natural habitat.

Hence, they are still the undeniable heroes our furry friends deserve.

wombat

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