Canberra sojourn #9 – Wombats

As noted on some of our previous Canberra posts, the one thing Jules and I haven’t enjoyed seeing in Canberra is the number of dead wombats hit by cars at the side of the roads.  Coming from WA, we’ve become desensitised to Kangaroo roadkill.  As there’s plenty of dead roos here as well, it’s the wombies we’ve noticed the most.  It doesn’t help that, typically, they’re lying on their backs with their stumpy little legs in the air, and they almost look like they’re sleeping on the roadside.  They’re obviously dense little buggers as you rarely see a smushed up animal, which is thankful.

Early on in our trip we’d noted that some of them had fluro spray painted crosses on them which we were wondering the purpose of, but we’ve now learnt that the paint means that someone has stopped to check their pouches for joeys.

So, with what seems to be hundreds of dead wombies we’ve seen, we set ourselves a goal of viewing one in the wild.  After some research we learnt the Beendeela Campground, a couple of hours north, was pretty much a sure bet of seeing them, but we also learnt there is a significant sarcoptic mange issue in that population.  It is thought the humans brought mange to Australia during settlement, who then passed the mites onto their domesticated animals, which then spread to the wildlife.  It can be treated if caught early enough, however, wombats are often difficult to locate during the day, are widespread and can be hard, somewhat dangerous to catch and treat, so mange is a real problem.  We did hear the other day that the mange has now spread to Australia’s fluffier, and more popular animal, the Koala, so wombat advocates are hoping the increased attention a mangy Koala will bring, will flow on to treatment benefits for the wombies.

Prior to making it out to Beendeela, Jules and I took a day trip out through the ranges to Brindabella for a picnic alongside the Goodragdigbee River.  We’d passed through this area a few months ago and had planned to make it back for a better look as it’s a beautiful valley, with a picturesque river and farmlands, nestled between the two ridges of the mountain range.  The trip in proved more eventful than planned, with lots of ice on the gravel road, and as we rounded one corner we came upon two utes perched precariously over the edge of the road and pointing the wrong way down a very steep descent.  After getting out to help, it seems the first driver braked a little hard going into a corner and slid off the track, luckily stopping when his car pivoted on its under-chassis (i.e. both the front and back sets of wheels were off the ground).  His mate who was following, I suspect was  following a bit too close, and when he saw the front car go off, he stepped on his brake harder and he was very lucky not to go completely over the edge when his bull bar hit and wedged on a large tree-stump just below the edge of the road.  Without that stump, he had a LONG drop, so he was a very lucky boy and understandably pretty shaken up.  Luckily only his pride and car were damaged.  After towing the front car back onto the road, we left them to go seek help to get the second car out as there was no way I was going to risk my car on the slippery ice trying to pull that one out.

The lead ute after we’d pulled it back onto the road.
The rear ute, which I wasn’t going to risk my car trying to pull out.

Despite the morning fun, we made it to the river in time for lunch and followed the river for approximately 10kms along a no through road track that wound through the farmland in the valley.  It was close to the end of this track that we spotted one, then three and finally 5 wombats off in the farmland in the middle of the day, grazing along the river bank.  Seeing wombats in the wild – mission accomplished!  The first wombie looked to be a solitary one, as wombats typically are. This one appeared to be a large male, and he was happy wandering around his burrow.  The other wombies looked to be separate mothers with a small wombie at shoulder.

Goodragdigbee River
Cows loitering along the riverside
Kookaburra checking us out
One of two very large, presumably feral cats in the valley
Crimson Rosellas
Us, at our picnic spot riverside where wine, cheese and nibblies were consumed
The big boy, out and enjoying the sun
Mother and baby riverside

Still cock-a-hoop about our weekend experience, I was discussing our sighting with a colleague at work, who’s a local, and she put us onto the Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary, just an hour north of Canberra.  Sleepy Burrows is a not for profit organisation who’ve dedicated their lives, and house/property, to the health and rehabilitation of wombats.  Jules and I quickly become Wombassadors, that is we donated to Sleepy Burrows, and through this were invited out for an afternoon visit to see how things are run and to meet some of the wombie guests.   

What a special experience.  Beth, one of the volunteers, took us around the property, explaining their rehabilitation program and successes and challenges, emphasising that mange is a very real concern for them.  In fact, Beth believes that unless the mange problem is managed, she thinks the NSW wombat could become vulnerable, if not totally extinct within 25years.  Despite being solitary animals, one mange infects an area, it spreads quickly through any interactions they have, and can be caught by one wombie using an old burrow of an infected wombie.

Phoenix, an adult female that was kept as a house pet for many years before she became too large to be managed and was given to Sleepy Burrows. They don’t think they’ll ever be able to rehabilitate her back to the wild but they are slowly reintroducing her to the outside and just last week she re-learnt her natural instinct to dig a burrow. Right now though, she’s super comfortable sleeping on the couch…
This wombat has mange (being treated). She escaped, caught mange and then brought it back to her pen mate. Hopefully she’ll recover and wont need to be put down.

The highlight of the visit however, was our interaction with some of their baby wombies they’re having to hand rear at the sanctuary (in the house).  We spent 30mins with Mango, a funny little bugger who despite being happy, has suffered stress related dermatitis after her mum was hit and killed on a road.   So, whilst Mango looks a bit mangy, and has bald patches, she was running around like a little puppy for 20mins before she decided that was enough excitement and she curled up on Beth for a sleep.  Next it was Moonshine and Fullstop, two 13month old female wombies who became friends (for now) and spent the next 30mins running around like watermelons on legs.  These guys were hilarious, obviously relatively intelligent animals, who’s main goal in life was to make it onto the ‘couch’ for a comfy sleep.  Between bouts of sprint, stomping – that is when they jump straight up, off the ground, and trying to climb up onto the couch, typically resulting in them rolling backwards onto the floor.

Mango, a wombie with attitude and cuteness
Mango getting cuddles
Mango getting cuddles
Either Moonshine or Fullstop, chewing on my jeans
Success! Made it onto the couch!
Moonshine and Fullstop with Beth
Moonshine and Fullstop
A pinkey. Wombats are born embryonic, think jellybean size, and mature slowly in their mothers pouch. This joey needs regular attention and feeding

The Sleepy Burrows team do fantastic work and it’s humbling to see people who care so passionately about a project that they’re willing to dedicate most of their life to supporting it.

Tree in paddock, outside Gundaroo
Trees in paddock, outside Gundaroo

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