When Elsie came into care at just 3 months old and weighing just 120 grams she looked like a jelly bean! Her progress was slow. However each new drama was dealt with and her progress and development continued. After looking pale and being diagnosed with low iron – she took her oral iron and her levels improved. She was treated for wombat herpes and her blisters healed. She was treated for mange just to be on the safe side.
Then her eyes began to open! Best still, after 5 long weeks with no poo, she finally pooped! I nearly threw a party. I cant remember being more excited about an event and I’ve given birth to my own child! Wombats tend to take several days to digest their food – but five weeks with no poo is a long time. Admittedly she had a little help. A visit to the vet included an ultrasound and an enema – next time you have a bad day, just remember that your day doesn’t include giving an enema to a wombat joey.
The enema had the the desired effect and a small poo came. But then Elsie had a reaction to the enema and her skin broke out in big red welts. Up went my stress levels again. Several days past before the redness faded but otherwise Elsie survived that too.
The next stage had me worried about her fur which seemed slow to come through. I wondered if she had been kept in artificial heat for too long. Elsie had the most beautiful pink skin covered in fine grey peach fuzz. But her fur development seemed slow.
Then Elsie reverted to her non poo ways! .Just as I’m getting ready to book Elsie into the vet for another ultrasound and enema, she pooped! This time it was healthy, firm poo – and a fair amount of it too! You may wonder if all wildlife carers are obsessed with poo or is it a strange obsession of mine.
I can tell you that our lives as wildlife carers revolve around poo – the colour, texture, amount and smell! Poo helps us determine the health of any animal in care! We live for it, clean up after it and talk about it! Have you ever wondered how pouched babies toilet? It’s always fascinated me. A mother marsupial couldn’t raise a baby in an unclean area if the pouch was dirty….so think about it. Where does the toileting go? With macropods (kangaroos and wallabies) as well as possums, the mother puts her head in the pouch, stimulates the baby’s cloaca (its bum) and licks and drinks the toileting. As wildlife carers, we are always relieved to know that we don’t actually have to use our tongues! We can use a tissue! I also suspect that babies occasionally are thrown from the pouch by the mum because she tastes something in the faeces and identifies that something is wrong with her young. Then, we as wildlife carers, come and intervene and battle to make these animals survive – nature is pretty clever. So, kangaroos and possums reach down to a pouch….what does a wombat do? Her pouch faces backwards….. how could she reach? I suspect this is another reason baby wombats don’t poo as much when young. The answer to how they poo in a backwards facing pouch…as the Joey develops, it wriggles backwards so their backside is just poking out of the pouch and when they feel the cold air, they poop! The babies sometimes also eat their mother’s dropping because that corrects their gut flora – but I won’t be whipping up a batch of my poo for anyone! So, let’s move on…. we can finish that discussion by saying that Elsie now poops every day!
But that wasn’t the end of her problems! One afternoon Elsie was taken outside – carried in her pouch – in the winter sun for less than 3 minutes… when she had a huge reaction to sunlight! Her skin broke out and turned bright red wherever the sun hit her delicate skin. After a hasty retreat back indoors, her skin return to normal colour. Perhaps joeys at this age never see sunlight or perhaps the formula they are fed in care is lacking some vitamin. Luckily she has a long journey to release and plenty of time to get used to sunlight.
At over 600 grams and around six months of age Elsie moved to being bottle fed every four hours. The change in feeding seemed like a dream. I still haven’t had a sleep-in for months but the extra hour between bottles was a huge relief. Elsie’s care was also transferred to me permanently! She will stay with me full time until release.
More of Elsie’s journey to come. You might wonder, with all the dramas we have to face with these little animals, is it worth it? The lack of sleep? Constantly making up bottles? Making sure the formula is right? That the teat flow is correct – not too fast or slow? Is the bedding temperature accurate? Constantly checking the weight and recording every move for our licensing requirements? The constant worry and stress? The vet checks? I can answer with a resounding YES! Every minute, every stress is worth it to to be able to return these beautiful animals back to the wild where they belong! I wouldn’t change a thing!
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