Most people come across injured wombats after a motor vehicle collision. The second major reason a wombat is found alive but in need of medical care is due to a parasitic infestation brought to Australia by foxes, called sarcoptic mange. The third most common injuries are gunshot wounds.
In all states there are rescue organizations and carers who are registered with the relevant state authority. It is illegal to keep a wombat without a permit from the relevant authority. Veterinarians Australia wide are mandated to assist injured wombats and usually provide their treatment free of charge. In addition Veterinarians are a good source of knowledge regarding local organizations and appropriate carers.
Wombat joeys can live for many days in their mother’s pouches after the female is killed. If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident with a wombat it is unlikely that the adult will survive but it is very likely that the joey will.
It is irresponsible to leave an injured animal without getting it help and it is cruel and unethical to not stop and check whether a joey is alive in its mother’s pouch.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Wombats do not respond like horses and dogs to the sound of cars. They use smell as their primary sense, their eye sight is poor and the speed of cars means by the time they hear an approaching vehicle they panic and bolt, often into the car. If you see a wombat at the edge of the road, act as you would if you saw a two year old child. Slow completely down and prepare to stop until you are sure the animal will move away from the road. If you hit a wombat, usually the adult will die as it is most often a head injury that the wombat will receive. Stop your vehicle and put on the hazard lights and ensure you are not going to cause a further collision. Make sure your children and passengers do not leave the vehicle or take them out of the vehicle and move them away from the roadside. If the wombat is still on the road use its front legs to turn it on its side or back and pull it to the road verge.
Do not leave a dead or injured wombat on the road. Not only will this cause a further hazard to other motorists but if dead the carcass will attract a variety of carrion eaters such as wedge tail eagles that may also become road kill. The reason you turn the animal on its side or back to pull it off the road is that if a joey is alive in the pouch and you pull it belly down you may injure the joey. If you cannot pull the animal from the road on your own, flag down a car to help or call a rescue organization to assist. The police will also attend if an animal is injured and needs euthanasia though this is not a priority for the police and in all cases try the animal rescue organisation first and seek their advice regarding the specifics of the situation.
If you are traveling on a bus or other means of transport where you are not in control, try and get the driver to stop. It is an offence to injure and leave an animal on the road without seeking assistance. There are many reports of bus and semi trailer drivers refusing to stop and this failure to render assistance is abhorrent and cruel. It will not stop until passengers speak up and report these drivers. Try and note where the accident occurred, remember or write down all details you can (sign posts, last town, road markings, nearby houses or environmental features) so you can notify an animal rescue organization as soon as you are able.
Rendering Assistance to an Injured Wombat
At the roadside when you, your vehicle and passengers and the wombat are safe assess the situation. Put the wombat on its side or back and check if there is a bulge or any obvious signs of a joey in the pouch. The pouch is found in the stomach towards the back legs in the middle and will be quite obvious. If the pouch is empty and a long teat protrudes, the wombat had a joey at foot still suckling and you must notify a rescue organization so they can attempt to find the joey even when the mother is dead. If the wombat is a female and her teats are small, she has no joey.
If the wombat is a male, or a female without joey and they are dead, there is little you can do. Pull the animal as far from the roadside as possible. Rescue organizations often spray such animals with paint so they know that the animal has been checked. If the wombat is an adult and still alive the best course of action is to cover him or her with a blanket or cloth and keep him or her as quiet and dark as possible. If you can, call a rescue organisation from where you are and remain with the animal until a rescuer reaches you.
If you need to leave the animal to make the phone call make sure you take details of exactly where the animal is, set your vehicle’s kilometer meter and write it down. You will think you will remember but you probably won’t.
Rescue organizations have great difficulty locating injured animals in Australia’s vast road system. “Down the road a bit on the right” is not particularly helpful and time wasted trying to find an injured animal often means the difference between it living or dying.
Where it is not practical for you to remain with the animal, leave a note with it indicating you are getting it assistance and what the issue is. joey in pouch or wombat injured but alive is enough detail. This also means the rescuers know they have found the correct body.
Can't Get Help Immediately?
If the adult is dead and a joey is in the pouch you can very gently remove the joey, but preferably get a rescue organization involved. The female’s teat expands in the joey’s mouth to such an extent that early settlers believed it was fused and babies were born in pouches. Do not force or yank the teat as you will damage the joey’s mouth and jaw. Instead use scissors or a knife and cut the teat only if the adult is dead otherwise you will cause her great pain and she will bleed to death. Often when a wombat mother is hit by a vehicle some time elapses before she is found. As the gas expands in her dead body, the pouch tightens and removing a joey may also involve cutting the pouch. If you need to do this, slip you hand into the pouch so it is your hand you cut with the scissors rather than the joey.
joey’s as small as matchboxes have been saved, but it is unlikely one that little will survive. However “pinkies”, furless young, are quite viable and many a fat healthy adult has resulted from a transparent pinky rescued after its mother was hit by a car. Once the joey is removed from the dead mother wrap it in something made from natural fibers ( wool, cotton, hemp) and keep it warm dark and quiet. Human body temperature is good for young wombats, particularly if the joey has been out overnight and is cold. Drop the package of wrapped joey down your front or sit it in your lap. Don't poke, prod, check or keep fiddling with the animal. At this point it needs to be left alone and kept warm, dark and quiet. Get help immediately. Do not try to feed the joey anything. It will survive a lot longer without food than it will being given the wrong type of milk or forced to consume water (joey’s do not drink water until they are “at heel” - out of the pouch). Often a dehydrated baby is better rehydrated using subcutaneous fluids and a veterinarian or an experienced wildlife carer needs to be involved to do this.
If the adult is alive or if you cannot remove the joey, try getting assistance to put or roll the adult onto a blanket or sack or car seat cover and put it in your vehicle, wrapped up in the blanket and minimally, with its head covered. Adult wombat’s weight up to 40 kilos so again; the best advice is to try and get a rescuer to come to you rather than to move the wombat BUT there are situations where you may need to do this. A sleeping bag that the adult can be encased in is a good option but anything that you can wrap the animal up in will do. It is unlikely that the animal will bite or scratch if it is sufficiently injured to be laying around while you do these things, but a frightened wombat will “bolt” and 40 kilos bolting through your car could be a problem so try and contain the animal in some way. Put it in the back if you have luggage barriers or in the car boot but make sure you stop regularly or leave the boot slightly open so it doesn’t suffocate.
If you are near a built up area garbage bins with wheels can make a good temporary enclosure.
Carefully slide the injured animal to the bottom of the bin and then wheel it to your vehicle. A wombat cannot climb out of such a bin so there is no need to tie or close the lid, however most vehicles will require that you lay the bin down for the car trip.
Animal rescue organizations are listed under that heading on this site. If you have rescued a joey or have an injured wombat or know of the whereabouts of either please call one of these groups. If you can’t get someone immediately, ring another group in a close locale. Animal rescue groups are co-operative and will contact one another to ensure that animal’s are rescued.
Veterinarians throughout Australia will also assist but the animal has to be taken to them and they are generally only available for this work during their normal operating hours. Remember if the adult wombat is alive and needing euthanasia, the police can also be called but only do this if you can't get a rescue group.
There may be rare occasions where you may have to care for a joey for some time before being able to pass it on to an appropriate group. It is advisable that you make contact with a rescue group in this situation and get support and advice for the period you are caring for the joey. Anyone who cares for animals tends to fall in love with joeys; they are helpless, dependent and very affectionate. But they are a major commitment, when young needing up to eight feeds a day and when older needing appropriate penning and access to the territory in which they will later be released. Do not make the mistake of “going it alone”. Joeys coming into care following a botched attempt by untrained people to look after them usually die. They need special milk, special teats, special replacement for colostrum (which in marsupials is supplied continuously unlike other mammals where it is only supplied initially) and those involved in vehicle collisions often need treatment for wounds and bruising.
Joeys are the equivalent of a premature baby when pinkies and require specialized care. Most carers are only too happy to stay in touch with the person who brings them into care and this is the best way to be involved. All carers undertake extensive training and also learn by experience and the experience of other carers. If you are ready to make that sort of commitment then join a wildlife carers group and get the training and support needed to do this successfully. Remember the joey has already been through a major trauma loosing its mother, having to change its diet and way of living; to add carer incompetence to this mix can spell disaster for the joey. For every story of someone who has raised a joey using “luck” there are ten stories of dehydrated, underfed, immune deficient joeys who are handed over when the carer realizes they are ill. Sadly for many, it is too late at that time. If you care, give them the best chance and hand them over to a professional.
Dead female showing pouch
Courtesy S&P Lack NSW
inside pouch having observed bulge indicating a joey
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