22 November 2023

So, how do you save a drowning wombat? You call your mum

| Sally Hopman
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Woman with wombat

ACT Wombat Rescue’s Yolandi Vermaak with ‘Ian Thorpe’, on Wednesday, whom she is now caring for after he nearly drowned in a Gungahlin pond on Monday. Photo: Supplied.

It was bucketing rain late on Monday afternoon (20 November) when Suzie Lueck drove up to her Gungahlin home to find her neighbour calling out. “There’s a wombat stuck in the water,” he told her, “and it’s in real trouble.”

Suzie raced to the pond near the Coombes depot to see the wombat swimming around in circles, trying to keep his head above water. It was clearly struggling to survive.

“I messaged our group chat to see if anyone had a kayak and then I remembered my mother had one, so I rang her. She was only 10 minutes away,” Suzie said. She had earlier contacted emergency services and volunteer rescue groups to come to the wombat’s rescue, but they were all out on other jobs.

“After I told her what was going on, Mum said she’d be right there. She was wearing a dress but put her life jacket over it and raced down to where we were. By then, we reckoned that the wombat had been in the water for about 30 minutes and was in real trouble.”

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Suzie said her mother, Diana Perriman, was “truly amazing”. She managed to guide the wombat to shore by placing her oar gently under him. He was later christened Ian Thorpe because of his remarkable ability to stay afloat.

“She also managed to keep Ian’s head above the water while she steered him towards the edge of the pond. My partner and our neighbour grabbed Ian and got him on the grass.”

Suzie said she knew he was in a bad way because he was not aggressive.

“It was like he was just really glad to be out of the water. It was a real adrenaline rush for us all. We just knew that for him to survive, we had to get him out of the water and dry him off. We couldn’t let him drown. It was amazing to see such great community spirit and how many people cared about poor little Ian.”

Woman on phone drying off wombat

Suzie Lueck dries off Ian Thorpe as she gets advice via phone from wombat expert Yolandi Vermaak. Phone: Supplied.

Once he was safely out, Suzie called Canberra’s wombat whisperer, Yolandi Vermaak, founder and president of ACT Wombat Rescue.

“We are so grateful to Yolandi,” Suzie said. “Without her help, there’s no way Ian would have survived.”

Today, Ian is under Yolandi’s care. She says he has come through the most dangerous part, the first 24 hours of his ordeal, but because he exerted himself so much energy swimming around in circles and then taking in so much water, he is by no means out of the woods yet.

“I’d say he was minutes away from dying when they got him out of the water,” she said.

“It gave me chills when Diana said at one point she could only see bubbles in the water. That’s when she lifted the paddle under him so he could get his head out.”

He was taken to the vet first and put on antibiotics because he had pneumonia, and as of Wednesday (22 November), was still not eating or drinking.

Kayaker uses oar to keep wombat's head out of water

Diana Perriman used her kayak oars to keep the wombat’s head out of the water as she steered him to shore. Photo: Supplied.

“Wombats can go for a while without eating,” Yolandi said. “I can’t feed him because he is too big to go on my lap. But I don’t imagine he’d be too thirsty after ingesting all that water in the pond.”

At about 35 kg, Yolandi said Ian was one of the biggest wombats she’d cared for. Although she has put him in isolation (the garage) at her Canberra home, he brings the tally to eight the number of wombats she is currently caring for.

“I’ve got two boys out the back in the yard,” she said. “They’re in burrows so I rarely see them. Then I’ve got three pink babies in care inside because they’re so tiny. There’s another one in isolation because of severe mange and now there’s Ian. There was also another one last night – a baby boy that was rescued from Point Hut.”

But for now, all eyes are on Ian in the hope he recovers from his ordeal. Yolandi said the most promising sign of progress was Wednesday morning when he growled at her. Growling means he’s getting better, gaining his strength back and showing his true colours. Wombats aren’t big fans of humans – even if they do save their lives.

ACT Wombat Rescue is a not-for-profit group that works to protect, rescue and support wombats. To help Yolandi continue her life-saving work, go to the website.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on Riotact.

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