Australian Corner 

 
 

How to feed a baby Wombat?

There are many skills needed to be learnt when living outside cities in Australia, especially if your home is way Outback or happens to be a station, which is the Australian name for a (very big) farm (some are the size of an English county, ...and often bigger!); how to fix a truck, how to round-up cattle, how to make a campfire and of course, how to feed a baby wombat...!

I had arrived at a remote property in the far NW Outback region of New South Wales, Australia, to collect a rooftop tent, an essential bit of kit if you're intending camping near any river in the far North ('Uptop') of Australia (West Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland), due to the huge number of 'Mr Crocodile' 's that live in and around them.

"Ok" said Steve as I arrived and jumped out of the Troopie, "before we sort the tent I need you to give me a hand with a couple of little critters: Here they are; you take 'Number One' and I'll take 'Number Two'"

It transpired that 'Number One' and 'Number Two' were a brother & sister pair of baby wombats that Steve, an NSWPWR (New South Wales Parks & Wildlife Ranger), had recently rescued when their mother had tragically been hit and killed by a car: Apparently Steve was fantastic at handling & healing animals but not the most imaginative of people when it came to naming them 😊.

"Righto" said Steve, "When we get in their enclosure just sit on the ground; I'll collect 'Number Two' and just let 'Number One' come to you: She'll climb up and sit on your lap, then you can feed her with the baby's milk bottle".
We entered the pen, I sat on the ground, 'No.1' hopped onto my lap, I put the bottle teat into her mouth and waited for her to start suckling.

"Nothing's happening Steve, I don't think she's hungry", I said after about 30 seconds of non-activity.
"Yes she is" replied Steve, "They always are, but you need to cover her eyes and push-down gently on her forehead!"

"Er, ok, but why...?!" I asked.

"Because you'll be mimicking how they feed naturally: In the wild they'd be down their underground burrow now in the pitch black, pushing up under their mother's tummy to get to her milk teats, which means they'd be 'blind' and feeling pressure on their heads; so that's what they're genetically wired to respond to!" answered Steve.

"Righto!" I said, though a little bit sceptically, and did exactly what he'd said; replaced the teat in No.1 's mouth, softly covered her eyes with my palm and very gently pushed down on her head: She immediately began to suckle..!!!
I was so surprised and, despite the evidence before my very eyes, slightly disbelieving that I 'tested' the technique by relieving the gentle pressure on No.1's head; she instantly stopped feeding, ...then immediately recommenced the moment I re-applied the pressure: I even 'experimented' with 'eyes covered but no pressure' and 'pressure but eyes uncovered'; neither worked!

Feeding No.1 Wombat was like 'operating an electric safety-lawnmower'; you had to have both the 'buttons' operating together or else nothing happened...

...and THAT my friends is how you feed a baby wombat! 🤓😊

 

Be aware of crocodiles

Many tourists get killed down under, they don't understand just how big (and often hidden) the dangers are. I once saved a guy's life simply by stopping him from going towards a river's edge up in the NT...

...he'd been walking along the bank for a few miles and was about to very quickly cool-off his feet, just at the very edge of the water.

He was an American tourist; the water was crystal clear and that part of the bank he'd chosen was a very gentle, shallow slope, so you could see anything coming for about 15 metres or so into the river.

I put a hand out and told him to stop, which perplexed and slightly annoyed him. I told him to look again at the water but to the left a bit, near the tree: It took a while of squinting but then his face suddenly dropped and he almost fainted; there, in the shadow of the tree that was being cast over the water, was a huge crocodile, ...just waiting for him. It was perfectly disguised by both that very shadow and the disruptive reflections of light off the water!!!

It had been stalking him underwater for the whole of his walk (they can feel landbank vibrations in the water; that's how they identify and locate prey on the riverbank without ever surfacing), then had ANTICIPATED his stop-off and gone ahead to ambush him: Hence why he didn't see it arrive but I did, luckily; I'd noticed just the faintest 'shadow of a movement' as I'd been watching some very funny cockatoos that were playing in the tree....

© Jonathan Elabor, © Jim Tsinganos
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