Recently I was having a stressful, intense time a work. Deadlines forced me to work very long hours in front of a computer and eat poorly, things that wreak havoc on one's mental health. I needed a cure, something that could restore mental balance and relieve my stress instantly, with little or no side effects. According to Science-Based Medicine, no such cure exists, so I was forced to turn to "traditional" or "alternative" methods. And what is the most effective alternative medicine to restore mental balance and eliminate stress? WOMBATS.
After I finally completed my work, I needed some wombat cuddles and thankfully there's a wombat rehabilitation sanctuary not far from Canberra. The Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary is located on farmland about an hour outside of Canberra and it is chock full of wombats. Sleepy Burrows is run by a woman named Donna, with the help of her husband Phil, out of their home. The youngest wombats need the most attention, and these are cared for in the house. This results in some pretty adorable, and undeniably Australian, domestic scenes:
Donna and Phil rescue wombats from the Southern Highlands area, and judging by the number of wombats they have, there are a lot of wombats in the area that need rescuing! Wombats come to Donna generally because they were injured by a car, they were orphaned by a car, or because someone thought that a wombat would make a nice pet. People who bring a wombat home as a pet invariably end up giving them to someone like Donna who (1) knows what they're doing and (2) has a large, rural property because WOMBATS MAKE TERRIBLE PETS.
Wombats are cute, and I can see why someone might decide that a baby wombat would be nice to keep as a pet. Nonetheless, I cannot stress this enough: WOMBATS ARE NOT PETS. Trying to keep a wombat as a pet is like trying to keep a sentient bulldozer as a pet. Wombats are large, wild animals and they need large, wild places to live. They like to dig, and if they're living on carpet, vinyl or hardwood, that's what they'll dig.
Another reason wombats make terrible pets is that they think it's hilarious to nip. When Donna brought out the young wombats to meet us on her living room floor, her two (human) children immediately pulled their legs up onto the couch. They already knew what we were about to learn: wombats are nippy! They give us what they must think are small nips, but their teeth are built for the same purpose as a lawn mower, and a small nip from a wombat is about as pleasant as what I would imaging a small nip from a lawnmower would feel like.
Other than unwanted pets, the primary source of wombats for the Sleepy Burrows Sanctuary is roadside mortality. Donna gets a lot of wombats that have been hit by cars. Most, unfortunately, are unable to survive and have to be euthanised. Some lucky ones Donna nurses back to health. More often, though, the adult wombat dies and leaves behind an orphaned baby wombat. Unfortunately, dead wombats by the side of the road are a familiar sight to anyone who drives around the Southern Highlands of Australia. As well as cars, there are introduced diseases that debilitate the wombats mentally and send them wandering aimlessly, unable to function. Dawn (pictured above) had such a disease and though she recovered, she's forever mentally debilitated and is living out her days at the sanctuary.
What was really shocking to me was that apparently there are people who like to use wombats as target practice. Wombats are big, tough animals with thick skin, and only high caliber bullets kill them quickly. Donna often gets called to wombats that seem injured or disoriented, only to find a small hole from a small caliber bullet somewhere in the poor thing's hide, slowly killing it. These wombats often have to be put down, and those that don't cost a lot of money in vet bills to recover. And target practice wasn't the whole picture of cruelty. The stories I heard of the horrible things people do to wombats for entertainment was sickening.
That people are willing to do such terrible things to wombats just makes Sleepy Burrows all the more necessary. Donna not only takes in the sick, injured, orphaned and/or tortured wombats, she also talks to people in the community, especially people in rural communities who encounter wombats on a regular basis, to try and foster more of a sense of compassion towards the animals. Sharing the love of animals is just about the only way to protect them for the long term, and it's people like Donna who are doing that work.
Of course the primary goal of any wildlife sanctuary should be returning animals to the wild. Sleepy Burrows has an amazing track record of releasing wombats when they are ready and able to survive. Donna is fortunate to live on a large, wild property suitable for wild wombats, and also to have supportive neighbours who appreciate wombats on their properties. When the wombats are ready, they're released into suitable habitat and Donna has great evidence that they are surviving and thriving. It helps that she can somehow recognise all the wombats as individuals! To train up and "educate" the wombats, Donna has set up what she calls "Wombat University", a series of enclosures where the wombats go from "extremely coddled" to "almost wild". She moves each wombat through the levels at their own pace. Wombats, like people, have personalities, and different individuals learn at different speeds. At Wombat University (unlike at Human University, I'd like to point out) each wombat learns at their own speed, and is only sent to the next level when they're ready.
Donna runs her sanctuary very efficiently, and she has to! Other than her husband Phil, who helps as much as he can but also works full time, it's just her by herself rescuing, caring for, and rehabilitating a heck of a lot of wombats. What she does isn't cheap, either. Donna welcomes visitors (which is extra generous because there's no public facility, visitors are welcomed into her home) for a donation, as I made when I visited. She also has an online store selling some awesome wombat stuff, and a coffee club for Wombassators who would like to support Sleepy Burrows monthly. Sleepy Burrows is an amazing place and the only place that I know of that you can cuddle baby wombats for hours on end (I think we were there for about four hours, and in the end we left only because we were exhausted from all the wombat cuddling!) They definitely deserve support for all their amazing efforts.