Back in December, the Black Summer fires devastated the lush rain forests of Gippsland in southeastern Australia. Residents were forced to flee the flames, leaving many native species of wildlife behind.
Emily Small and her mom Sharon joined them, evacuating their ranch in the remote village of Goongerah, but they refused to leave alone!
The mother and daughter run Goongerah Wombat Orphanage, an animal rescue that cares for sick, injured, or orphaned wombats.
One day, a trio of tiny joeys was brought over after their mother was hit by a car. They had been found inside the marsupial’s pouch and were barely clinging to life.
Wombat babies are as helpless as human infants and require almost as much care, so Emily and Sharon took turns caring for Beatrice, Bronson, and Landon nonstop. Meanwhile, Emily continued commuting to her job at Wildlife Victoria in Melbourne. When the fires hit, they had to pack up their tiny joeys and move to Emily’s apartment to wait out the danger.
As if the situation wasn’t tough enough, the COVID-19 pandemic hit shortly after they settled into Emily’s one-bedroom apartment. Still, these dedicated animal rescuers never stopped tending to the babies’ needs. They even journeyed back to Goongerah at one point to retrieve chunks of native grass and soil to ease the wombats’ eventual release into the wild.
“People think wombats are dumb, because they don’t get out of the way of cars when they approach,” Emily said.
But they’ve got really poor eyesight and can only see a meter or two in front of them. So they stop when they hear a car and don’t get out of the way, because they can’t see it and then they’re hit. But they’re the smartest marsupials — they’re super intelligent! I can’t tell you how many signs of that that I’ve seen over the years.
Emily uses a special marsupial milk formula to feed the babies, who have formed a tight bond with each other and their surrogate mama. Of course, that hasn’t made the transition easy. Wombats are inquisitive creatures who try to eat anything they find, so living together in a cramped apartment for months was no simple task.
Thankfully, by some small miracle, their ranch was spared from the destruction! When they were finally able to return, they dumped a bag of food in the yard and waited. Soon, the adult wombats they had rescued before the fire and pandemic smelled the food and came back to the orphanage where they knew they’d be safe!
As for Beatrice, Bronson, and Landon, when they are 10 months old, they’ll be released into the wild. While Emily will miss her babies, it seems they won’t wander too far from those early days in her care!
What incredible perseverance! Clearly, nothing will keep these dedicated wildlife advocates from helping the animals around them. Thank you, Emily and Sharon, for everything you do!
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