Wombat joeys are called pinkies, for obvious reasons. Recently, this little guy was found in his mum’s pouch after a road accident. Soon after, the good people of Wildlife Victoria stepped in to do right by him. He’ll be bottle-fed hourly, massaged with mineral oil, and kept in a warm cloth pouch. My fantasy: this photo is a book cover and I am the editor of the book. I get to choose the title and subtitle:
Wombat Dreams: Australian Habitat Conservation and Wildlife Protection
In Our Hands: Holding the Promise of a Better World for Wildlife
The Story’s Not Written Yet: Life, Love, and Loss in Wildlife Rehabilitation
Life Finds a Way: The Fierce Hope of Wildlife Carers
New Zealand is truly and deeply great, and I’m also missing the wildlife in Australia a whole lot. So here’s a little more about my visit to the bat clinic (I tore myself away from there two days ago to fly to Wellington), since some of you had questions and you’ve all probably had enough of the wombats (as if that’s even possible)!
Shoalhaven Bat Clinic (check out their Facebook page for lots of great video) rescues and rehabilitates grey-headed flying foxes. These furry, intelligent mammals get caught in barbed wire, hit by cars, shot at, stressed by “extreme heat events,” electrocuted by power lines, and burned by brush fire. They’re native to Australia, and as everywhere, habitat loss is a big problem there. Here are some highlights from my 48 hours:
Walking into a fenced-in aviary and standing gob-smacked as about twenty bats hung upside down above me. They spend their entire lives upside down (except when flying and relieving themselves). They smell kind of musky.
This guy likes to hang with a buddy.
Watching them nibble their fruit salads (apples, pears, and grapes painstakingly diced by volunteers every morning).
Grey-headed flying foxes only eat fruit and nectar.
Touching a bat’s velvety, crepe-papery wing.
Observing a bat autopsy (cause of death was determined to be blunt trauma to chest).
Wendy performs a necropsy on a bat that came in DOA.
Marveling at their wings, which are kind of like built-in blankets because they wrap themselves in them. Their wings “have hands in them” because their fingers support the wing membrane. Lookit:
Staring at little delicate bat fingers.
The young bats like to hold onto their carers.
Day-tripping to an enchanted beach with the clinic manager, Janine:
The softest sand.
Meeting other rescued creatures who were just the teeniest-tiniest, baby-est things: feathertail possums, brushtail possums, and feather gliders.
This little guy’s tree was cut down. He’s a brushtail possum.
Gerry Hawkins, a total powerhouse, runs the clinic on her own property. I stayed in a little in-law type apartment within her home. I had my own little French-press coffee maker and drank a lot of coffee. And just outside my room was a 75-year-old cockatoo, Charlie, who would repeat “hello, darling” after you. He would also spread his wings and dance to the Sesame Street song “Sing a Song” (his favorite since 1969).
Charlie may live until he’s 100. I hope Gerry does, too. She’s amazing.
Waking up in Wellington, New Zealand this morning, I am still humbled by the kindness of strangers. A handful of them made my stay in Australia magical (and of course are no longer strangers). These humane humans also devote their lives to rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing wild animals.
They’re people who “just say yes”: Yes, I’ll give my spare bedroom to a wombat-obsessed American for a week. Sure, I’ll bottle-feed an injured possum with a thumb-sized bottle every two hours for a month. Right then, I’ll drive you around Canberra for a day of sightseeing. Yeah, I’ll pull over on the highway right now and check this dead kangaroo’s pouch, using a flimsy plastic grocery bag as a glove. Yup, let’s drive two hours each way to pick up a scabby wallaby from another wildlife carer who doesn’t have space for her. Absolutely, this blind elderly wombat can live with my family and I for the rest of his natural life. Yes. Yes.
You know how when you’re traveling in a foreign country everything is a thing? The littlest tasks like filling your car with gas, making a phone call, frying an egg. It’s like you’re a little again and the grown-up locals have to show you how to do the most basic things. But my hosts never made me feel dumb, just laughed with me when I laughed at myself. Then they would usually make everything okay by putting an animal in my lap.
I was in Australia for two weeks and only spent one night in a hotel. I am the luckiest. Here are some of my main kind strangers (now friends). I’m sure the animals are grateful for them, too.
Donna of Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary (with Cruiser)
Phil and the girls of Sleepy Burrows.
Dianna of Rocklily Wombats (with Wiggles)
Warwick (right) of Rocklily Wombats, with George the builder
Janine of Shoalhaven Bat Clinic
Wendy (right) of Shoalhaven Bat Clinic with her partner Jenny
In Bat Land, this is called the “flyout.” At 7:30 pm on the dot the whole colony (of 11,000 grey-headed flying foxes, aka bats) flies out of their trees in search of their nighttime fruit. A wonderful volunteer, Janine, took me to see this phenomenon and we stared above and listened to the frantic bat chatter for about 20 straight minutes. Batman has nothing on these guys.
Gives new meaning to the term “batshit crazy.”
On my way to the bat clinic, I saw this. Google maps couldn’t have pinned my destination better. This rainbow ends at the clinic, truly.