Babushka - a feisty female wombat

by Liz McNeil
wildlife rescuer, Victoria

Babushka, while she was in care









Babushka, wondering back into the bush










Babushka, happily wild and free!


I had spent hours in fire ground searches since March 2009, rescuing sick, starving wombats from areas in Victoria. At first most of the wombats were seemingly okay, and we were only really rescuing wombats being hit by cars or directly burnt from the fires. We were doing food drops and this seemed adequate, until July of this year, we started seeing tired, lethargic, skinny wombats out during the day from 12 noon onwards, trying to pull up the 2mm of grass, that had grown back, or dig at burnt tree roots. My husband and I and a small team of wildlife volunteers, that had completed all the necessary training, bought in around 20 wombats and transported them to good carers, many died from their ordeal or had to be euthanized. They were all fairly easy rescues, which for a wombat, tells you something is wrong. ….

Until I met Babushka……

Myself and another rescuer were driving along food dropping, and from a distance, I spotted her, I had become pretty good at that. She was pulling up grass from the roadside, as in the forest area it was all burnt and the fire had been the most intense in this area. I could see her prominent, square bum plate and her spine as we walked in for a closer look. I put my thumbs up, that mean's the wombat needed to come in. I walked in front of her and the other rescuer walked behind her, she looked at both of us, as if deciding which way would be safer, she chose me! I got my blanket ready and slipped over, right in front of her, which made her go for cover under two burnt logs. I quickly got up and put the blanket all the way over her. All was going well, until I called the other rescuer to help, as I didn't have the best of holds on her. From this moment we got to know Babushka. She growled fiercely, it wasn't a normal wombat growl, it sounded like 100 tigers and under the blanket, she was stomping her front leg, like a bull does before it charges. I had never encountered any wombat rescue like it. Most are too tired and run down, that they "sink" when captured…not this one….

We arrived at the carers, and Babushka was all settled and calm. I warned the carer that she appeared feisty and to take care. The carer assessed her as being severely underweight and anemic, due to poor diet, and needing to remain in care for quite a few weeks. We took her to a wombat enclosure, and the carer with many years experience, just put her hands in and gently placed Babushka in the enclosure. She did nothing! No growl, no stomping! She went straight over to the food bowl and ate and ate. That was beautiful to watch, made us see why the work we do for these animals, is so worth doing. We all got a bit teary and I wondered if she was feisty after all…….

A few days later, I phoned the carer to find out how Babushka was settling in. I was told she was one feisty, cranky girl. Any volunteer that wasn't confident she would charge at, she would growl, if she heard any noise or anyone came in the enclosure. One volunteer refused to go in there. I had another wombat I was dropping off to the carer a few weeks later, and Babushka, heard my voice, she came out of the enclosure and growled, did her bull stomp thing and shook her heard fiercely at me. That told me she remembered me!

The carer had resorted to anyone that went in to Babushka, must be aimed with a poo scoop, to place in front of them, to hold Babushka back. She was eating well and gaining weight.

Several weeks later I got a call that she was ready for release, and given her crankiness, it would be too risky to keep her in care for any longer. On the way there my hubby and I were planning, how we would capture her from the enclosure, reducing her stress as much as we could and I mentioned how far away, I would be standing upon her release!

About 4pm we arrived, to find Babushka, looking healthy and eating in her enclosure, she wasn't the prettiest wombie I've ever seen, she had war scars and torn ears and was the boss. So, we put our plan into action and with lots of growls and snorts we transported her to the release site. We got everything set up, then moved slowly away, within 30 seconds, she came out, she turned looked at my hubby, and I, with what we thought looked like sadness in her eyes! She sniffed at the food and her bedding and began exploring again, stopping to eat every now and then……….I sung the Babushka goodbye song, by Kate Bush and wished her well.

We are all grateful for the experience Babushka gave us, no one got hurt or bitten, and she was saved….one less victim of the devastating Victorian bushfires.