Page last updated at 08:11 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 09:11 UK

Wombat bites Australian bush fire survivor

Wombat (file image)
Wombats are normally not aggressive creatures

A man who survived last year's deadly bush fires in Australia is recovering in hospital after falling victim to a rare attack by a wombat.

Bruce Kringle, 60, was pulled to the ground by the animal and bitten on the legs and arms after apparently stepping on it by mistake.

He escaped after killing the wombat with an axe.

Animal experts said it appeared the wombat had been suffering from mange, which had made it irritable.

Paramedic Robert Gill said it appeared Mr Kringle had trodden on the animal when he left his caravan in Flowerdale, north-east of Melbourne.

He was living in the caravan while he rebuilt his home after the "Black Saturday" fires.

"The wombat proceeded to get rather nasty and attacked him and inflicted some wounds to his lower legs and also to his arms as well," ABC News quoted Mr Gill as saying.

"It took about 20 minutes. He did try to exit the area and get away from the wombat but my belief is that it kept coming at him."

Kelly Smith, a friend of Mr Kringle, said that once he was on the ground, the wombat had climbed on his chest.

Herbivorous marsupial or pouched mammal
About 1 metre (40 in) in length
Tends to graze at night
Produces cube-shaped dung
Closest relative is koala

"Bruce managed to find an axe and killed it," Ms Smith told the AAP news agency. "It's bizarre what happened."

There were reports that local people had complained about a rogue wombat in the area in recent days.

Wombats, furry marsupials unique to Australia, are one of the country's most endearing native creatures.

They can grow up to 1m (40 inches) in length and weigh up to 35kg.

Geoff McClure of the Department of Sustainability and Environment said wombat attacks were extremely rare, but that the animal in question could have been made aggressive by mange, caused by mites on the skin.

"In the advanced stages wombats become very irritable and anyone who approaches them, they usually view as a threat and may run towards them," he said.

He told AAP Mr Kringle's action in killing the wombat was probably merciful, as it would have been suffering.

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