Tonka the bare-nosed wombat

Tonka was a very special wombat and his story touched the hearts of thousands of people around the world.

It all stared in 2009 when he was rescued from the pouch of his road-killed mother and taken to Billabong Sanctuary just south of Townsville to be hand-raised by the rangers. They called him Tonka because he was like a toy bulldozer.

Tonka was fed, cuddled and taken on walks around the Sanctuary. He sometimes even had sleepovers at the ranger’s house, lying on the lounge watching TV. 

Young wombats are dependent on their mothers until they are about 15 – 20 months old. So how do you comfort a young motherless wombat? Give him a toy ‘teddy’ to cuddle. Tonka never grew out of cuddling a teddy - although he chewed them, and they had to be replaced frequently! 


Tonka loved people. He became the star of Billabong’s wombat encounter - being cuddled, patted, tickled, held  and photographed by thousands of people over the years. He was an ambassador for not only wombats, but all Australian animals.


In February 2011, Billabong Sanctuary was severely damaged by Category 5 Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi and was closed to the public for 10 weeks. During this time, Tonka refused food and lost 20% of his body weight. Veterinarians could find no physical cause for his condition. When the Sanctuary re-opened, and Tonka joined the wombat show again, he started eating. He had missed his pats and cuddles and become depressed! His battle with depression catapulted Tonka to international notoriety with stories circulating online and across many different media.

In 2016, Tonka sadly fell ill with irreversible kidney damage. He was put to sleep. This caused an outpouring of grief from around the world.

His physical remains were sent to the Queensland Museum for mounting so he could go on display and rejoin his legion of fans. His spirit lives on in the hearts of all who knew and loved him.


People are invited to leave their memories, messages and photos of Tonka on the Museum’s Facebook page and hashtag #tonkathewombat.


Tonka photographs courtesy of Sheila Brunskill, Billabong Sanctuary