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
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
Yesterday’s photo shoot went great. The juvenile wombats put on quite a show in the afternoon, when they’re at their most animated and interactive. The session ended with a surprise visit from Dawn, the oldest resident of Sleepy Burrows. Donna coaxed her out of her burrow as the photographer, Jacky, waited in that calm, patient, nature photographer way.
Dawn spends days in her burrow (it was dug by another wombat; no grunt work for Dawnie) and nights in the shelter of the studio, being unable to defend herself from other wombats. Donna suspects she also has some brain damage.
Dawn was found emaciated on a roadside a few years ago. Now she’s huge. She’s a senior (between 15 and 20) and is sort of like a professor emeritus here.
And here’s Dawn’s friend, Blind Boy. Every night, they spend a short time standing quietly next to each other separated by a fence. It’s like the Land of the Misfit Toys.
I just found this deep in my suitcase (where the cleanest clothes are) from Nina:
Okay then, I’ll tell you all. There are currently 26 wombats in care at Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary, all in different stages of rescue, rehabilitation, and release. Most were orphaned when their moms became roadkill (and drivers were thoughtful enough to check the pouch before driving on). Others were kept as house pets until they became too large and inconvenient for their humans. Here are the current residents, by location:
In the house are the youngest wombats, who are bottle-fed, swaddled in cloth pouches, and sheltered in wooden crates that simulate burrows:
Lincoln and Barron (they’re buddies, though Lincoln is getting aggressive with Barron and they’re being separated)
Abram and Panzer (an adorably dynamic duo)
Bungee (named because he was found in Bungadore, but he’s also a bit bouncy like a bungee cord)
Cruiser (the nicest, feistiest little spirit)
Cruiser’s first time in the fresh air.
“The Studio,” a sort of mobile home outside the house, is a little like a halfway house:
Chance (long story for another time)
Dawn (another long story)
Pecan and Pistachio (sweet female newcomers, very teddy-bear-like, doing great, previously “pets”)
Pistachio and Pecan playing piggyback.
“Up the back” are full outdoor enclosures with corrugated tin shelters and fencing; wombats can dig their own burrows. Things get wilder here as wombats become less habituated to humans:
Silo (a big, truly badass wombat)
Lucy (her success here remains to be seen; she was a baby when I came last year)
Clipper (I gave him a bubble bath last year)
B Squared (named because his mom was called Boney Bum)
Where the almost-wild things are.
Lastly, there’s “the bush,” to which the “enclosure” wombats eventually graduate if all goes well. The sanctuary has 200 acres so most will stay more or less on the property, digging their own burrows or inhabiting an unused one (its previous resident may have died). On this list would be almost 100 wombats that Donna and Phil have successfully rehabilitated. The most recent addition to the bush is Hazelnut, who sprung herself from the enclosure a few nights before I arrived.
But some wombats never leave Donna and Phil’s care:
Blind Boy (for obvious reasons) is in a special outdoor enclosure.
Dawn and Soldier (brain damage from mistreatment)
Barron (a young newcomer who Donna has predicted will be a permanent resident because his jaw was injured when his mom was hit by a car; as a result he can’t eat properly).
Barron is a bit of a runt because of his misshapen jaw. We’re all rooting for this sweet, gentle guy.
Okay, all present and accounted for, at least for tonight…