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ROB MORRISON: Every Australian State has its native animal as a symbol, and for South Australia, it's the hairy-nosed wombat. You can tell it from other wombats, the common wombat, because of its hairy nose. But despite its symbolic importance, it's an animal in trouble. In some ways, the species is under threat and there's still an awful lot about its biology we don't understand. But there are two people who have done as much as anybody in both rescuing wombats and learning about their biology. Manfred and Helen Heide raise young wombats whose mothers have been killed. Wombats, like kangaroos and koalas, are marsupials. Growing in their mother's pouch, they also die if she does. Manfred and Helen rescue and raise these little marsupials and in the process are learning a great deal about their biology.

MANFRED HEIDE: When we got involved with wombats, the information was very poor on the ground. There was very little known. We've been bottle-feeding wombats now for 35 years. And one thing we have learned - you must keep records. So every bottle what goes into that little animal gets recorded, so we have a continuous record for every animal of every bottle and every time anything happens to that animal, it gets recorded. That's the only way we can build up good information on wombat hand-raising. And that now benefits all the animals from this point on.

HELEN HEIDE: When they come in, you've got no knowledge of what has actually happened because you weren't there. Whether the animal's injured, it's in trauma, so it needs a lot of comfort and stability. You have a lot of trouble sometimes with the animal because it's not naturally mum... So it's different formula, different handling and getting them into a routine. Every animal is different that comes in so you have to get to know the animal and their likes and dislikes. Mainly, what they want is comfort because they've gone through a trauma of losing their mother. If you've had children, it's very similar to raising children. You can't give baby native animals cow's milk because they're lactose-intolerant and this will upset the gut. The formula is in different strengths to accommodate the stomach of the baby wombat. The reason for a male or female feeding process is that the little animals do have a preference. He has settled down with me but our little girl that we've got, she likes a male. Maybe it's the holding - the male is stronger in holding an animal - or it might be just a preference for the animal.

MANFRED HEIDE: As little animals come in, they're assessed, they're checked for health and everything else and then we put them into incubators. That's their first stop. From then on, they advance to wombat boxes, which are still heated but provide the animals with a little bit more room to move about. And from then on, we take them outside. We have enclosures out there which are approximately 10 foot by 10 foot. We then introduce them to their own kind so they can interact with their own species. And from that point on, we can then get them into larger enclosures - some of the large enclosures are over 250 square metres - and from then on, they're independent, they get fed every day, they get checked for their health. The enclosures are designed so that we can monitor their progress.

HELEN HEIDE: Once they're hand-reared, the wombats are not releasable back into the wild because of the hand-rearing and the personal touch they've had with people. They're very people-orientated, so they wouldn't know how to survive in the wild.

MANFRED HEIDE: Over 35 years working with wombats now, we have built their environment around their biology. We learnt more by research of wild populations and we adopted the same principle in our own facilities. Wombats need a tunnel and a sleeping chamber below ground level to maintain body temperature. Consequently, we have now built wombat burrows. The best burrow systems are now 20 feet long and a sleeping chamber on the end. Every sleeping chamber has a hatch for servicing and we have a glass panel behind there so we can actually monitor the animal without changing the airflow in the tunnel. We will also, in these underground facilities, provide red light in the sleeping chamber because animals can't detect the red wavelengths. We can see them, but they wouldn't know they're being observed.

ROB MORRISON: While most of the enclosures here are for wombats, they share their homes with a lot of other wildlife.

MANFRED HEIDE: In the large enclosures, we have other animals in there as well. We integrated possums with the wombats, and all the boxes you see around there is, in actual fact, artificial hollow logs to keep the animals in an environment which they are used to. The most rewarding thing with native animals is that when you get them in very badly injured, six months down the track, you can see them outside, running around, jumping in the air, rolling down the hill and really being a wombat. That's a reward which you just can't pay for.
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