At the age of 33, he’s already a great grandfather three times over, but that’s not what makes Hamlet extra special.
The long-time resident of the Toronto Zoo, who celebrated his birthday on Sunday, is officially the world’s oldest southern hair-nosed wombat.
Having far outlived the wombat’s typical lifespan of 15 years, Hamlet is close behind the oldest wombat ever on record, who died at 34 years and 7 months at the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago in 2009.
Hamlet, one of nine southern hairy-nosed wombats in North America, was born at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, and raised in the Toronto Zoo where he arrived in 1994.
With three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, Hamlet, who is directly related to every hairy-nosed wombat in North America except two, is still full of life when he’s not sleeping.
“When he’s awake, he’s surprisingly inquisitive,” says Brent Huffman, a wildlife care keeper at the Toronto Zoo. “He loves pushing things around.”
“So when we’re cleaning in the exhibit with him, we have a bucket that we’re putting all the feces in, all the hay,” says Huffman. “One of his favourite things to do is to push that around.”
Hamlet is, however, plagued by a few health problems that come with age, including issues with chewing. To keep his constantly growing teeth in check, he gets a dental checkup every six months.
At the Toronto Zoo, wombats are fed timothy hay, vegetables, and pellets containing vitamins and minerals. To make eating easier for Hamlet, his caretakers often make his veggies softer by heating them up in a microwave.
“And he won’t eat his corn unless it is cut off the cob,” says Huffman.
Of the three species of wombats, the strong, stocky southern hairy-nosed wombat is the smallest.
Their short legs and flattened heads make them excellent diggers, and while Hamlet still enjoys digging in sand and loose soil, he leaves the task of making burrows to his 3-year-old great-granddaughter Matilba and third resident wombat, 4-year-old Arthur.
For his own safety, due to some mobility issues, Hamlet has not been introduced to the active little ones, with whom he shares the exhibit.
Visitors might also notice that Hamlet seems to always be winking – a result of his eye being removed in 2012 after he developed an infection.
The best time to see Hamlet, who sleeps through most of the day and night, is after 3 p.m. when he comes back out to the exhibit to see what he missed during his nap.
“There are not many zoos that have wombats, and we have among the most experience working with the species in North America,” says Huffman. “Hamlet’s longevity goes to prove that point.”
Hamlet likes sticking to his own routine and celebrated his birthday quietly.
“What we’ve found in the past is that dropping that routine is not very fun for Hamlet,” says Huffman.