I decided to do something different and take Wombat Rescue on tour during 2019 by visiting one sanctuary every month.
The idea came to me after the suicide of a carer due to bullying. I didn’t know her or the circumstances, but I have first-hand experienced nastiness from wildlife people and know how bad it can get (this is of course not everyone, but the impact this negativity has on carers who works brutally long hours with no compensation or assistance from government, and being the first responder to horrific scenes is devastating).
This initiative will perhaps not change the landscape of competitive caring (that’s how I see it because some wants to be the only one that’s always right), but it can demonstrate that we all have different opinions, we were all trained a little differently and we HAVE to accept each other, support each other and share our experiences, successes, triumphs and failures. Without judgement!
So early on a Saturday morning in January 2019, Kelly and I set out for our first visit for the Wombat Rescue on Tour project. Our first stop would be Rocklily Wombat Refuge.
In the car, we are excited and talk non-stop about our plan, feeling a little nervous, wondering how it will go, what we will encounter, whether this will work or not.
As we got closer, the scenery changed to beautiful forest with some spectacular views.
Then we were there.
Nestled into rolling hills somewhere in the Blue Mountains, Dianna and Warwick Bisset created a haven for wildlife. Rocklily Wombat Refuge.
They mainly rescue, rehabilitate and release wombats, but also have kangaroos and wallabies that are dumped or surrendered, and need their loving care.
The duo are both engineers, and use their practical skill and expertise to build ingenious devices like a feeding station for wombats devised to keep kangaroos out but wombats can freely come and go.
With very little outside help, Dianna and Warwick expanded the refuge and are caring for 8 wombats at the moment. They build enclosures themselves, as well as various soft release pens situated at different places. They are completely self-funded with no government support and rely on sales of merchandise in a local cafe and on their website to fund and support their rehabilitation program.
What was striking to me and Kelly was their release strategy. This impressed us most.
Various permanent soft release pens were built and installed, not only at Rocklily but also on the land of generous and supportive landowners in the area, especially as it backs onto National Parks.
The philosophy at Rocklily is to meticulously plan an orphaned wombat’s progress, from rehabilitation and care up to release from the moment they get them in. They have the process down to a fine art – little things like training the wombat to use wombat one-way gates, food to keep their gut flora ready for a wild life, predator aware and not humanised.
Before release, the wombats are taught the skills they will need to survive like foraging methods in times of drought when there is very little green grass available, being aware of other wombats and burrowing. These wombats are given the opportunity to experience and feel part of their environment while they are still in care.
Once they have been soft-released in the soft-release pen, and have acclimatised to their new environment, over approximately 2-4 weeks, the wombat gate is unlocked and they are free to come and go. They are monitored 24/7 via cameras in pen and local burrows and checked on physically daily for the first 6 weeks, tapering off to fortnightly over 5 months. This is to assess their progress in the wild and assist if they are struggling to assimilate.
Notwithstanding being a self-funded refuge, Dianna and Warwick are always willing to share their knowledge and experience with others, and freely offer the plans of their pens on their website rocklilywombats.com
Dianna gave me this piece of advice to share with you…
When you have a wombat joey in care, you have to start your release from arrival and have it in place. Think of the end of the process at the beginning. Your wombat needs to be ready for release, and you have to ensure you have the release location available.
“We are very mindful of the need to raise resilient wildlife that can manage in the wild. Treating them as pets, feeding human food and keeping them inside beyond 5kg is just setting them up for failure. It’s a slow process to “de-humanise” wombats, and often not successful at all” – Dianne Bisset
Written by Yolandi Vermaak and Kelly McLeod