Meet Pickle, the Wombat

June 28, 2014

Things didn’t start well for Pickle. Her mother was hit by a car when she was only 3 and half months old. She was entirely hairless and dependent on her mother for milk. By the time she was rescued and skilfully detached from the teat in her mother’s pouch, she was dehydrated and stressed…but alive.

Stress doesn’t just kill humans. It kills wildlife, too. Pickle was fortunate to fall into the hands of Rob and Gaylene Parker. They are experienced members of WIRES (Wildlife Rescue and Education Service) and have reared many wombats. They know exactly what to do.

They put her in a sort of pouch; something that simulated the warmth and safety of her mother’s pouch as much as  humanly possible. They mixed up a milk formula specific for a wombat of her age. They hung her new pouch in a small cage.

This was a critical time for Pickle. A cold draught or exposure to a loud TV could contribute to her stress and make her ill. But a few days later she was tumbling out of her ‘pouch’ and somersaulting back into it when things got too scary.

As Pickle grew, she graduated to a larger pouch and a larger cage. Eventually she moved out of the ‘animal-care building’ and into an enclosure with a burrow. Gradually she got used to using her burrow, rather than her pouch, when she wanted to sleep or just feel safe. She acquired a fine coat of coarse grey hair.

After 18 months of dedicated care Pickle was ready and old enough to go out into the wild. The Parkers left her enclosure open and gingerly she began to investigate the world beyond their property. The Parkers live at the end of a bush track away from busy roads and surrounded by wombat burrows.

Although solitary animals, wombats may visit one another’s burrows. They may even share them to sleep, not together but in separate chambers. It was probably while visiting another wombat’s burrow that Pickle picked up sarcoptic mange.

This condition is widespread among wombats. It is caused by mites that burrow under their skin. Infestations cause intense itching. The skin becomes ulcerated, scaly and cracked. The healthy fur drops out, leaving bald patches or tufts of softer brown fur. In advanced cases, scabs form around the eyes leading to blindness. Left untreated, the mange leads to a slow and painful death.

The Parkers picked up Pickle’s condition quickly. Once again, they knew exactly what to do. She would have to be caught every 5 to 7 days for 8 weeks and have special medicine applied to her skin to kill the mites. To limit her stress they left her to roam free between treatments but she never roamed far.

When we meet Pickle, she has a distinctly mothballed appearance but she is well rounded, clear-eyed and chomping her way across the grass like a living lawn-mower. Rob wants to check her progress. He holds a long poll with a stout net at one end, a sort of rugged butterfly net. Surprisingly, she makes a bee-line for him …and the net. Wombats have poor eyesight so this may have been just a lucky coincidence. Rob drops the net over her, picks her up and gently lowers her into a cage.

A brief, non-invasive fur inspection ensues. Rob pronounces satisfaction with her treatment. Healthy coarse grey hair already graces the top on her head and more is sprouting from bare patches on her sides. Released, she heads off to the safety of a burrow.

She’s only 2 years old and not yet full grown but the signs are good. All being well she’ll be breeding in one or two years. Meanwhile her foster parents keep their distance but remain vigilant. She’s one lucky wombat.

Locations visited

Wingello

Wildlife

Mammals 1 species
Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus) 1

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Written by

Louise Egerton


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