Monitoring the reproductive "secrets" of Australia's wombats, including increased pacing by females and their biting of males' rumps, could help save the critically endangered marsupials through captive breeding, according to latest research.
The behaviors displayed by female southern hairy-nosed wombats "at the most fertile phase of their reproductive cycle" are ways to better understand the animals as a breeding model for their critically endangered northern cousins, Australian researchers from the University of Queensland said on Thursday.
"With only about 200 northern hairy-nosed wombats remaining, being able to breed these animals may one day ensure the survival of the species," the university's Associate Professor Stephen Johnston said.
"There has been no captive breeding of the northern hairy-nosed wombat, and even the southern species fails to breed regularly in captivity."
Similar to Australia's iconic kangaroos, wombats are short-legged native marsupials found in the wild throughout the country. Bare-nosed common wombats can grow to about 1 meter long and weigh about 30 kg.
The size and aggressive temperament of the wombats make them difficult to work with, so the behavioral indicators were a significant step forward, Johnston said.
His research team's findings were published in the scientific journal Reproduction, Fertility and Development.
"We have developed a way to map the reproductive cycle of the female wombat by measuring hormone levels in their urine," he added.
"These behaviors could be used to identify when animals in captivity should be brought together for breeding, serving as cues for animal husbandry managers in zoos and wildlife facilities with southern hairy-nosed wombats."
The next step in the research involves the development of assisted reproductive techniques such as artificial insemination, Johnston said.