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Orphan wombats prove a handful for rescuers




"These two are a classic example of what we see with most of our orphan wombats, very sadly," he says.

"Both of their mums were hit by cars but luckily enough someone stopped and checked the pouch and they were found."

The joeys are kept in a purpose-made, wombat-proof enclosure.

As we approached, only Dora could be seen, her nose poking out through a gap in some rocks that make up the wall of the burrow they have made.

Despite their young age, the pair has dug tunnels up to five metres long; Xena was somewhere in the depths sleeping, or too shy to emerge.

"They're just so stubborn to start off with," Greg says.

"You might be looking at some that take a good two or three weeks before they really accept you as being mum."

Workers at the sanctuary adopt wombats to care for individually; Dora is looked after primarily by Greg's partner Petra Harris, while Greg himself has formed a special bond with Xena.

"I'd like to say she's my little angel but it's not the case," he says with a laugh.

"Honestly, three and a half months down the track you have to nearly fight her for every single bottle."

Both joeys weighed less than three kilograms each when they were found, but with an average release weight of 18 kilograms, there's still a long way to go.

"It's a really, really long caring process with wombats; you're looking at up to two years in many circumstances," Greg says.

While no two wombats take the same time to mature, their behaviour makes it clear when they're ready to strike out on their own.

"It's head-butting, it's biting, it's clawing and it is doing anything they can to chase you away when they become teenagers," Greg says.

"But it is a beautiful thing because that's them turning as we call it."

Over the following month they become solitary and nocturnal, even responding to the keepers as predators.

Greg says it's a good sign that once they are released they will have a good chance of survival in the wild.

Most will wander off into the sunset, never to be seen again, but not all of them are willing to completely give up their domestic comforts.

One in particular, dubbed Mavis Whiteclaw by her rescuers had not been seen for a few months once she was released at a property near Orielton.

That is until the area experienced a huge downpour and some flooding.

"She appeared back in her enclosure; on her back, in her little hutch, wrapped up in a blanket, fast asleep," Greg says.

"She devoured a bowl of oats and took off again two days later."

Watching Greg interact lovingly with Dora, it's hard to imagine he'd ever want to give her up.

However he says the greatest joy comes from releasing them back into the bush.

"No matter how hard they are to start with and no matter how much work goes into them, we want to see these animals with the best possible chance of survival," he says.

"The fact that they do really relate to people once they accept you is quite a special thing but then they become wild on their own and that's even more beautiful."

It will be around another year until Xena and Dora are ready to be released.

Whether they quickly return to the wild, or occasionally succumb to the temptation of the comforts of a nice warm enclosure, only time will tell.

If you find any injured wildlife anywhere in Tasmania, contact the Bonorong Orphaned and Injured Wildlife Hotline.
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WildLife Rules!: Orphan wombats prove a handful for rescuers
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