The Wombat Hilton gets one of the world's rarest mammals in the mood for love

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The Independent Online

Scientists trying to conserve one of the world's rarest mammals, the northern hairy-nosed wombat, have set up a luxury breeding facility dubbed the Wombat Hilton and are using the latest IVF techniques to boost the animals' fertility.

Scientists trying to conserve one of the world's rarest mammals, the northern hairy-nosed wombat, have set up a luxury breeding facility dubbed the Wombat Hilton and are using the latest IVF techniques to boost the animals' fertility.

The reclusive marsupials are notorious for their reluctance to breed in captivity, so the research facility in the Queensland town of Rockhampton is laying on haute cuisine (the tastiest grasses) and subdued lighting to get them in the mood for love.

Northern hairy-nosed wombats once ranged in plentiful numbers across eastern Australia, but they have dwindled to a single population of just 110, confined to a tiny pocket of a forest in central Queensland. Conservationists fear that the entire colony, which includes only 30 females, could be wiped out by drought or disease.

Researchers at the Wombat Hilton have joined forces with an IVF clinic in Rockhampton to experiment with techniques to increase the females' reproductive capacity. Steve Robson, the wombats' obstetrician, said: "This is the most exciting thing I've ever been involved in.

"We've had funding to enable us to build a dream research facility. It's so exciting to look at the technology we use for humans and take that back to the animal world."

Researchers plan to stimulate the wombats' ovaries to produce eggs out of season, and are experimenting on their southern hairy-nosed cousins, a more abundant species.

Glen Durie, a research student, said: "We've got to look at ways to increase the reproductive capacity of female hairy-nosed wombats, and because the northern is so endangered, we have to work out techniques on the southern species. We're hopefully looking at artificial insemination further down the track, and using southern females as surrogate mothers."

Northern hairy-nosed numbers have been devastated by drought and over-grazing.

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