November 22, 2011 | 3
Is the northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii) the most interesting endangered species in the world? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t—but it has definitely attracted the attention of the Dos Equis beer commercial spokesperson known only as “the Most Interesting Man in the World.”
The television advertising icon and Dos Equis have launched an auction for a jar of what they call The Most Interesting Jam—a concoction made from ingredients suggested by Facebook fans and supposedly hand-mixed by the Most Interesting Man in the World himself—with all proceeds going to benefit the Wombat Foundation, an organization set up to protect the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat. The jam contains “grasshoppers in Thai herbs, Cuban oregano, and gold as well as apples, sugar and apple cider vinegar.” Yes, that’s edible gold in the mix.
I had a chance to speak with the Most Interesting Man in the World himself about the auction.
Why the wombat? What about this endangered species and the Wombat Foundation inspired you to act?
I once saved a life in the Australian outback aided by only a wombat and a didgeridoo. Since that day I have personally felt a great debt to the wombat for its ingenuity, valor and burrowing capabilities. When I discovered the plight of the wombat, I knew I had to act. The Wombat Foundation is in the unique position to assist this troubled species with its mission to support activities to bring the northern hairy-nosed wombat back from the edge of extinction.
What would you want people to know about the northern hairy-nosed wombat? Why does it interest the most interesting man in the world?
On my last journey to Australia, there were less than 140 of this species of wombat still alive. This animal is truly on the brink of disappearing.
How much money or awareness do you hope to raise with this auction?
In my experience, I have found that expectations only serve to limit success. I will say, however, that friends who have tasted my jam spread have called the experience “spiritually fulfilling in such a manner that it transcends all the bounds of modern life.” So I do hope the bidders place their bets accordingly. Regarding awareness for the plight of the northern hairy-nosed wombat, I would hope to spread their message worldwide.
How will the money raised be used by the foundation?
The primary use of the money raised by the auction of my Most Interesting Jam spread will be assisting in the recovery and preservation of the northern hairy-nosed wombat. Currently efforts are being made to relocate a number of wombats to increase their chances of survival. With the funds raised, I also hope to assist the foundation in their continued research on the wombat community.
As a man of refined tastes, culinary delicacies are one of my true passions. Over the years, I found that my palate was becoming bored with the standard fare many jam vendors sold. Thus, I began making my own jam spread, combining the kumquat of the Asia–Pacific region with the puckering flavor of the Malaysian jellyfish. This year a good friend challenged me to abandon my time-tested classic and develop a new jam spread. Thus, I put out a call to my fine followers around the globe, soliciting their inspiration for ingredients. So became this year’s iteration of my jam spread—a fine blend of Cuban oregano, gold dust, and grasshoppers in Thai herbs.
Okay, some of the Most Interesting Man’s answers may be a bit tongue in cheek, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to write about this species for months, and now I have it. The northern hairy-nosed is one of the world’s most critically endangered mammals, and possibly the rarest mammal in Australia. It’s also the only one of the three wombat species that is currently endangered. As the Most Interesting Man alluded, only 138 of these 30- to 40-kilogram marsupials remain the wild in the Australian state of Queensland. Of the 138 animals, 126 live at their primary habitat: 500 hectares of Epping Forest National Park, where they are protected by 20 kilometers of dingo-proof fences that keeps out unwanted predators. The fence was built in 2002 after dingoes ate 15 to 20 wombats, putting a serious dent in their already fragile population.
The few additional wombats have been present at their second location, the Richard Underwood Nature Reserve, for only about two years. Five animals were moved there in July 2009, a necessary action that will help protect the species from fire, predation, disease or other natural events that could wipe out the entire population if it were located in just a single site. Ten more wombats have since been moved to the nature reserve, and although a handful of the animals have since died, they have also recently started breeding. Last month, the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management released this infrared video of one new joey walking with its mother in the reserve:
According to the Wombat Foundation, the species was probably never plentiful. It evolved to burrow in semi-arid grasslands with sandy soil, a habitat type that is far from common in Australia. The wombats faced too much competition from livestock brought by European settlers, and later droughts nearly wiped them out. By the 1980s the species was down to its last 35 individuals. The current count of 138 is an all-time high for the species since conservation efforts began.
The Most Interesting Jam auction runs through Monday, November 28. Bidding started at just 99 cents, but as of this writing the top bid is more than $900.
[Update: Bidding closed at $1,025. That's a lot of wampum for wombats.]
Photos courtesy of Dos Equis. Northern hairy-nosed wombat photo via Queensland Environmental Protection Agency