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In 2001 I agreed to participate in an online interview with particular reference to the following animals as ‘pets’ and highlighting their positives and negatives as ‘pet’ potential.


 


I have to say from the outset, that ‘pet’ is a word that I am not comfortable with, when referring to wildlife, but I agreed, nevertheless.  


 


The animals in question were:-


 


1.   The Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus)


2.   The Western Grey Kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus)


3.     The Brush-tailed Bettong (Bettongia penicillata)


4.   The Long-nosed Potoroo (Potorous tridactylus)


 


The base questions asked were:-


 


1.   Do they have scent glands or an offensive smell?


2.   What is their average lifespan?


3.   Do they enjoy interaction?


4.   What is their general personality, disposition, and attitude?


5.   Are they sweet and petable, or mischievous and playful?


6.   How destructive are they for an average household?


7.   Do they climb or tear up furniture?


8.   Are there any problems associated with their claws?


9.   How messy are their droppings?


10. Can they be litter box trained?


11. Can they be trained?


12. How are they with other pets, larger and smaller?


13. What size cage do they need?


14. What do you feed them?


15. What vaccinations/vet care do they require?


16. At what age would it be best to get one?


 and


17. What other considerations are there for owners of these animals as pets?


18. What kind of person should own these animals?


19. About the author? 


 


My Response:-


I would like to preface the following by saying that all these comments should not be taken as “gospel” and are all based on my own opinion and based on personal experiences and as such someone else’s viewpoint could be quite different.     Also the copyright of this script remains with the writer.



Bob Cleaver    



First, a very brief background on each of the animals.


The Wombat



There are three species of wombat in Australia – the Common (Vombatus ursinus), The Southern Hairy-nosed (Lasiorhinus latifrons) and the Northern Hairy-nosed (Lasiorhinus krefftii).    The Common also has a number of subspecies.    The Northern Hairy-nosed is the rarest mammal in the world – there were only about one hundred animals remaining at the last count and 70% of these are males.



There are some major differences between the Common and the Hairy-nosed.    The main one to be considered if you are keeping these animals in captivity is that the common can climb and the hairy-nosed cannot.



The Western Grey Kangaroo



The Western Grey Kangaroo is a peculiarity in the kangaroo world in that it does NOT (as do all the others) display embryonic diapause.



The Brush-tailed Bettong



Commonly called rat kangaroos, of which there are many species, and was almost extinct until it was brought back from the brink only a few years ago.    They were almost wiped out when white man first came to Australia and introduced the cat, the fox and the rabbit.    The rabbit ate their food and took away their homes.    The cat and fox ate them.



The Long-nosed Potoroo



This is a shy and usually gentle creature which prefers to hide in dense undergrowth.    Wild populations are still viable but there is always the potential of habitat destruction.    They, also, would be no match for a cat, dog or fox.



These animals as pet potential:



Positives



Wombats


Great fun to hand-raise and become very attached to their carer.



Western Grey Kangaroo


Are affectionate towards their carers and remain so throughout their lives.


Brush-tailed Bettong and Long-nosed Potoroos


Are affectionate towards their carers only whilst young.



Negatives



Wombats


As Juveniles; very few.    As adults; very many.     They are very destructive to their surrounds and bite to communicate.    This is what wombat’s do – they like to use their teeth and to dig.



Western Grey Kangaroo


Time consuming and expensive to hand raise.   They would be one of the more difficult kangaroos to hand raise, although they do become very affectionate towards their carer.    Males should be ALWAYS castrated when around 5kgs in weight.   This is NOT AN OPTION.     IT IS ESSENTIAL.   All adult male ‘roos, of whatever species, are dangerously unpredictable if not castrated when small.



Brush-tailed Bettong and Long-nosed Potoroos


They can make good ‘pets’ but tend to revert to a ‘wild’ state as they mature.   When adult, although may remain tame, they generally do not like being handled.



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Care Q. & A.:



1.            Do they have scent glands or an offensive smell?


Wombats do not have scent glands but do mark their territory with urine and faeces.     Western Grey Kangaroos do have scent glands and the males can become very pungent – not so much with the females ( unless they have been in close proximity to a male).    Potoroos and Bettongs do not have scent glands as far as I am aware, but they also scent mark their territory with urine and faeces.    The Potoroos also have a particularly disgusting habit of vomiting partly digested food as a puddle on the ground and then re-eat it.



2.            What is their average lifespan?


Wombat – 30 years (the last captive Northern Hairy-nosed died some years ago at a known age of 33years);   Kangaroo – 20-25 years (depending on species – Greys seem to live longer than Reds),    Brush-tailed Bettong and Potoroo – 10-12 years.    Note: these are all educated guesstimates



3.            Do they enjoy interaction?



I am not comfortable with the word ‘enjoy’, but Wombats and Kangaroos, if handraised, will certainly crave human companionship.    Bettongs and Potoroos tend to revert to a ‘wild’ state as they mature.   When adult, although may remain tame, they generally do not like being handled.



4.            What is their general personality, disposition, and attitude?


This is an impossible question to answer as they are all individuals and as individuals are all different.       I would answer this question by asking another.     How would you answer this question if it were asked of a human being?    The answer will be the same!



5.            Are they sweet and petable, or mischievous and playful?


The simple answer is none of the above, but again this would be age and individual related.    As young animals the wombat and the kangaroo could be considered playful but not as adults and for Bettongs and Potoroos the answer would be no, at any age.



6.            How destructive are they for an average household?



None of these animals would be suitable for indoor living on a long term basis.    They would all become either very destructive or smelly.



7.            Do they climb or tear up furniture?



Yes to all the above, but particularly the wombat – they very destructive animals and will attempt to dig holes wherever they can and will certainly tear up your furniture.    One of the Bettongs’ natural abilities is to collect seed in the mouth and then hop off and bury it somewhere as storage for a “rainy day”.    Unfortunately, they tend to forget where they’ve put it and in this way it would have been one of the major seed distributors of flora species within Australia.    They will also try to do the same thing in your carpet.    You will end up with small piles of seed buried deep within the pile of your carpet.    Potoroos as I mentioned before also have this disgusting habit of vomiting partly digested food as a puddle on the ground and then re-eat it.   This will also happen on your carpet!



8.            Are there any problems associated with their claws?



No not particularly, but they all have sharp claws which can potentially inflict severe wounds, although I would not consider this to be a problem and feel that it would be by accident rather than design.    The exception here would be the kangaroo.   A full male can inflict fatal wounds with his hind feet if you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.



9.            How messy are their droppings?



Generally not at all – mostly they are quite dry, however, with  the Potoroo and Bettong – they can be a bit messy, depending on what they have eaten.    Some foods will produce soft faeces (particularly in a ‘false’ or captive diet) a more natural diet will not, unless they have ingesting copious quantities of fresh green feed.



10.          Can they be litter box trained?



NO (but for the wombat you could try putting a litter tray at the point where they would normally mark their territory – for the others no).    But then there are always exceptions to the rule!


11.          Can they be trained?




NO, YES,  MAYBE ??? but limited.    Personally I don’t believe so –  but they will train you.    The exception here again, would probably be the wombat.    Wombats are extremely intelligent and have the largest brain in proportion to its body size of any marsupial and would be equivalent in size to that of a dog.   But as for training, I’m not so sure – like I said above they will train you, and believe me they are very smart!     (Just as an aside – the Koala, which is the nearest living relative to the Common Wombat, has an extremely small brain, so small in fact that the two hemispheres do not meet in the middle.   It is just, basically, an eating & sleeping machine).



12.          How are they with other pets, larger and smaller?



Again this will depend on whether or not the creature concerned has been brought up with the other pet.   If yes, then they should get along together ok, if not, then it would be a different story.    As a general rule Kangaroos and dogs don’t mix (dogs like to play – kangaroos do not = conflict).   A wombat has the potential to kill a dog if it (the dog) were cornered (through sheer power, strength  and brute force, as opposed to biting or scratching).     Conversely, a large dog is a potential killer of the wombat..    Bettongs and Potoroos would be a tasty meal for either a cat or a dog.



13.          What size cage do they need?



How long is a piece of string?    This is an enormous question and has book potential.   This is a subject which I am currently writing up as a four part article for this (and next) years’ issues of “Keeping Marsupials” –  the quarterly Journal of The Marsupial Society of Australia Inc.   To date there is twenty four pages of text and I have only just started on part four.  
To subscribe go to
www.marsupialsociety.org



14.          What do you feed them?



Another huge question!
(I was tempted to say – food – but I shouldn’t be facetious).
To try and put this in a nutshell, let me say that the wombat and the kangaroo should be fed a dry pelletised food of some description but be careful not to get one that contains too much protein (avoid horse foods, they are too high in protein and too high in mineral content).    We have been using one, which all our animals seem to enjoy that is designed for goats.   There is one available in Australia designed specifically for kangaroos but for some reason our animals seem to leave it in preference for the goat meal.    High protein levels, particularly for the wombat, can, potentially involve some problems.   They should also be offered green feed of some sort and a good meadow hay, also garden prunings are good but be VERY VERY careful that the plants you offer are not poisonous.     Avoid grass cuttings from your lawnmower – if a cat has urinated or defaected on the lawn and then the animal eats the grass there is the potential for that animal to contract toxoplasmosis (which all cats carry) and it is usually fatal.

The Bettongs and Potoroos should also be offered a dry proprietary puppy food (for their teeth), plus a range of fruit, fungi, nuts, carrots, apple, orange, in fact any sort of fruit and vegetable material.   Think of it this way – if you are prepared to eat it, and it is vegetarian, then you are at liberty to feed to your Potoroos or Bettongs – however, they may not eat it,  but you will soon find out their preferences.    The important issue is to offer a varied and good quality diet.   Infrequent protein is not a bad thing either, so the occasional chop bone for them to chew at would not go astray.



15.          What vaccinations/vet care do they require?



We have never had to vaccinate any of our animals for anything, but there will be times when the services of a vet are needed.    The most common problems that would be associated with the kangaroos, are things like diarrhoea, pneumonia, respiratory infections and mechanical problems (i.e. broken limbs, lacerations etc.).    With the other critters, veterinary intervention would be a rarity.



16.          At what age would it be best to get one?



Unfortunately these are not the type of animal where you just go out and ‘get one’.     Most (if not all) of our hand-raised animals have been “rescued” and come from road accidents other unnatural trauma.    However, animals that have been bred from these can be sold or purchased provided you have the correct permits.    I would NEVER take a healthy animal from out of the pouch just to have a tame animal to sell.    The only acceptable reason for doing this is that if there is either something wrong with the young or the mother has a problem.    For example, some years ago we acquired an Agile Wallaby this way when an adult female contracted toxoplasmosis (from cat contaminated food) and had to be put down, but she had a joey in her pouch (which was not affected by the disease).     If you acquired an adult animal of any of these species it would be unlikely to be tame.



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17.          Other considerations for owners?


Basically this question can be included with the next.



18.          What kind of person should own these animals?



Someone with a lot of patience, plenty of spare time and has a natural affinity with animals in general.     If you are an “animal” person they will respond to you but if you have a short fuse – forget it.   These animals do respond well to kindness but not to anger or abuse under which circumstance they are likely to “hit back”.      If you are not prepared to commit yourself for the lifespan of the animal then do not take it on in the first place.

If you are going to take on a kangaroo, for example, then you must consider that, should you be likely to move home during their lifespan, you will probably have to leave it (them) behind.    Adult kangaroos do not like being moved and as a very general rule, (if you can apply rules to animals, which I am reluctant to do), a high percentage of adult ‘roos that are moved will die within the twelve to eighteen months following the move.    Under these circumstances they can suffer from myopathy which, in layman’s terms, is an extreme form of stress.    Basically the animal becomes lethargic, may refuse to eat, it may even go into spasm, but generally becomes tense and  unhappy, all of which have the same net effect – death.    It is treatable, but success is limited and not guaranteed.    The main factor in treatment would be massive doses of vitamin E and or injectable atropine.

We found ourselves in these circumstances some years ago and moved seventeen adult ‘roos (with much care and forethought) and were lucky in that we lost only four over the following twelve months or so.     We cannot say that it was the move that killed them, but the deaths were all suspicious and unexpected.

Myopathy is not easily diagnosed without veterinary intervention and generally there are no visible symptoms to you or me, except death, and by that time you don’t need the vet unless you want a post mortem performed.



19.             About the author?



Whilst writing the above diatribe I have had some difficulty in reaching the keyboard because I have been taken over by a rather sooky wombat.   She insisted on sitting on my lap and then curled up and went to sleep and it is somewhat difficult to try and balance an 18kg wombat on your lap and type at the same time.



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Summary of my experience working with native wildlife over the past thirty years. 



1974 and ongoing



I obtained my first ‘Keep and Sell’ permit from The National Parks and Wildlife Service which enable me to keep and care for a range of Native wildlife species.


My permit is still current, due for renewal in June 2004.



1982 and ongoing



My wife and I both became members of the Avicultural Society of South Australia Inc. – our membership is still current.



1984 and ongoing



We both joined the Marsupial Society of South Australia Inc. in an effort to learn as much as we could about keeping native animals before expanding our interest in that direction.     We also expanded our interest to a wider range of birds including birds of prey and softbills.
It was this year that we first had ideas of creating our own wildlife sanctuary as an eco-tourism venture.    This is when Wombat Rise Sanctuary first started to take shape.



1986 – 1995



We obtained our first pair of Wallabies.    We also took possession of our first rescued kangaroo in June of 1986 closely followed by our first wombat.    It was also that year, we were both elected to the committee of the Marsupial Society of South Australia Inc. and I was elected as editor of their magazine.     I continued with this work for nine years (to 1995) during which time I learnt an incredible amount about our wildlife (and continue to do so).



1988 and continuing



A group of people, myself included, purchased a 17 square kilometre strip of coastal scrub in October 1988 to preserve the last mainland habitat of the Death Adder (an endangered species of snake).    The area is known as Point Jarrold and is found on the west side of the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.    The ownership of the land is registered to the Point Jarrold Flora and Fauna Research Association



1989 – 1992



I was persuaded to become the co-coordinator of a T.A.F.E. (Tertiary and Further Education) course entitled ‘The Care and Management of Rescued Native Fauna’ which was extremely well received and ran from 1989 through to 1992.



1993 – 2002



Wombat Rise Sanctuary was registered as a business in 1993 and continued until 2002 when the property was put up for sale.



1994 – 1995



I was elected as President of The Marsupial Society of Australia Inc. and we also joined The Native Animal Network Inc.    The Native Animal Network is very heavily involved with the rescue of injured and orphan native wildlife whereas the Marsupial Society leans more towards conservation, education and captive management issues.



1996 – 2002



Both my Wife and I were honoured with a life membership of The Marsupial Society of Australia Inc. in 1996 and received an award in that year for having achieved first recorded captive breeding of the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons) in South Australia.   At the time of writing (December 2003) we have now bred thirteen, and three of these were sired by our firstborn.



2001 and ongoing


Since March of 2001 I have, once again, taken on the position of Editor for the Marsupial Society’s Journal “Keeping Marsupials”.


2002 and ongoing              


Now retired from ‘paying’ work (but definitely not from my animal interests), I am attempting to write a book of some of our exploits and experiences in working with native wildlife.    I have absorbed an awful amount of knowledge over the previous almost thirty years.     It would be a shame if others cannot take advantage of it.     If it helps or amuses others, then I will rest in peace.


2003 and ongoing


I was elected as webmaster for the website of the Marsupial Society of Australia Inc. www.marsupialsociety.org so now I have three hats (President, Editor & Webmaster).


2007 and ongoing


Nominated myself to take on the Editorship of “The Wildlife Telegraph”, the twice yearly magazine of The Native Animal Network.   So now I have another hat – I must be nuts!


2008 and ongoing


Nominated and accepted to the committee of The Wombat Protection Society.   See http://www.wombatprotection.org.au/ and also assisting the Wombat Awareness Organisation in their endeavours see http://www.wombatawareness.com/


 


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