First there were some distinctive scats, then there were footprints.
Now it has been confirmed beyond dispute – wombats have travelled well beyond their normal range and can now be found in urban Bendigo.
At least, that’s certainly true of one wombat who was captured on camera by a council parks and natural reserves worker who literally stumbled upon the decisive piece of evidence after months of reported wombat sightings.
“I was crossing through Bendigo Creek doing weed monitoring, mapping out what we needed to do,” Luke Shaw said.
“When, basically, I fell into this hole.”
Despite being in an “extremely urban” location outside the wombats distribution range, Mr Shaw said he immediately suspected the culprit behind some distinctive-looking scats found near the hole.
“Wombats are renowned for pumping out square turds everywhere, which they use to deter other animals and wombats,” the Mr Shaw said.
“They’re loners, they don't like to hang out with other wombats unless they need each other ... to procreate or what not.”
So Mr Shaw rushed back to his office, grabbed a motion-sensor camera and caught the burrow’s resident on camera.
The evidence was, finally, conclusive.
“It was a pretty big one too,” Mr Shaw said.
So why are the wombats moving west?
That incident was back in May, but the City of Greater Bendigo chose to keep the discovery quiet to protect the marsupial from inquisitive residents. But though Mr Shaw said the wombat had now moved on, he said there had since been a number of other sightings and scat found along the Bendigo Creek and its tributaries.
And the Bendigo wombat was not the only to be found outside its normal distribution range this year.
In January, a wombat was caught on camera on the Murray River’s Gunbower Island, 150 kilometres from its nearest known habitat
Bare-nosed wombats are found mostly on the eastern-side of the Great Dividing Ranges and in the temperate areas of southern Victoria.
One theory to explain these sightings is that the animals had been kept as pets, but were released when they became too large or aggressive.
But Mr Shaw said biologists did not yet have a definitive answer as to why wombats were now being spotted in the northern reaches of central Victoria.
Though the Mr Shaw said it was unclear what might be behind the appearance of wombats in Bendigo, he said there were a number of other native species returning to the area’s iron-bark forests.
Native fauna coming back to Bendigo Creek
“We’re forever trying to improve the Bendigo Creek, leaving logs, revegetating, removing weeds, trying to encourage natural grasses and sedges – which is what wombats eat – and in that way making it healthier,” he said.
“We’re connecting up green belts throughout the Bendigo area and Bendigo Creek is key to providing pathways for animals to move.”
One target species for the area is the powerful owl.
Mr Shaw said parks and reserves workers had been creating a “supermarket” for the owls by creating nest-boxes for their prey – including the likes of the small marsupial phascogales.
The City of Greater Bendigo has also installed 37 new boxes for the owls themselves.
Since then, a female Powerful Owl was recorded for the first time in the Crusoe Reservoir and No. 7 Park.
This animal has been recorded continuously since that time and is now considered a resident.
“We’re trying to encourage more native fauna back to these forests which were completely cleared of old growth forest,” Mr Shaw said.
“And they’re coming.”