A Wombat Called Fuddles
by Linda Dennis
Fuddles attacking mum "ugg" clad foot
First stages of exploring
Fuddles attacking dads "ugg" clad foot
Fuddles could sleep anywhere
Bonding time with Todd
Fuddles inside his very first burrow
Fuddles outside his very first burrow
Home is where the boot is
Fuddles at his cliff burrow
Fuddles, the mischief maker
Fuddles, back for a visit
A treat for Fuddles
Fuddles has grown!
Meet Fuddles, my very first male Bare-Nosed Wombat.
This little guy was quite similar to the girls I have raised (Tici, Keti & Alu), only he had a hell of a lot more oomph - I'm guessing it was all that testosterone!
When I first laid eyes on Fuddles I thought he was a nightmare. He was a bundle of energy that seemed to attack any ankle that moved - mine included!
Truthfully - it didn't take me (or Todd) long to fall madly in love with him. Wombats have always held a soft spot in our hearts.
When Keti or Alu (smaller than Fuddles) turned into balls of bad behaviour I'd would turn them around and point their noses in the opposite direction and this normally stopped them as they became interested in something else, or each other. Not with Fuddles!
As he streaked quicker than lightening and latched onto my barely covered ankles I whisked him around and pushed him in the opposite direction, quite smug in my wombat handling abilities! Nanoseconds later he was there again, firmly gripping my flesh with his sharp teeth. OK, all smugness gone - never underestimate an attack wombat!
Fuddles started his "human life" with a family in the Central West of NSW. Vez, Fuddles first "human mum", absolutely adored him but realised it was time for him to move on. He was 7 kilo's of lovable trouble but Vez' neighbours had had enough of him! He was already starting to wander away from home, probably a little too early really. At that weight a wombat is still "fox fodder", so to speak - too small to be able to defend himself if he had met a hungry fox or dog, or another cranky wombat. But he was a stubborn thing (that testosterone again?) and really didn't like being enclosed in a pen, so to save the house from being torn apart Vez allowed him to have his wandering way - and lucky for Fuddles those hungry foxes and cranky wombats didn't find him!
One day, not long before I collected Fuddles to bring him back to Fourth Crossing, Vez found him in the back of the neighbours ute. Some time later, after rescuing Fuddles, Vez found out that he had made a lovely burrow - under the neighbours house! They had planned on taking him further out in the country and leaving him there. A plan which would have led to disaster - it was lucky that Vez found him in time. The survival rate for a wombat "hard release" is quite low - normally ending in a fatality either by an attack from a local adult wombat, exposure to the elements (extreme cold or hot weather) or pining away for "mum". Wombats stay at their mothers heals until they are around 12-19kg in weight (depending on the individual), the release weight being the same.
And so... Fuddles came to live with us.
With Fuddles came the big box that he was raised in, all his blankets, some of his favourite food, milk powder and Vez's slippers! Fuddles meant the world to Vez and letting him go was hard - it was an admirable thing for her to do, knowing that in the long run it would be better for him (although certain heartbreak for her).
It was also quite evident that Fuddles adored his first "human mum" so her slippers were brought on the trip so that Fuddles could have Vez's smell near him. This is a common "technique" that helps keep critters as stress free as possible while adapting to new surroundings.
For the first few nights we kept Fuddles inside so that he could get used to his new home and the new smells. We blocked off our dining room so he would have a large area to explore, his box and blankets went in one corner and his feed tray and water went in another. We kept Fuddles awake during the day, playing with him and keeping him amused so that at night he would sleep - and so we could sleep! This worked well for a few nights until Fuddles decided that he wanted to be up at night instead - normal activity time for a wombat.
We set up an area for him on our verandah and he stayed there for a few weeks, quite happy in his new home. This was during the cooler months of the year so we didn't have to worry about Fuddles becoming too hot - a hot wombat is a very unhappy wombat and they prefer temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius which is the average temperature of a wombat burrow. Prolonged heat of 30 degrees and above can literally kill a wombat.
It wasn't long before Fuddles decided that he wanted to explore his new home and the nights became alive with the sound of him trying to escape his pen.
We decided to move him into my flight aviary, originally built for exercising Birds of Prey - and thankfully, wombat proof. Luckily it wasn't being used at the time, so Fuddles was moved in - box, blankets, slippers and all. The aviary made a suitable and safe home for him for another few weeks.
Each evening Todd and I would take Fuddles for a walk around our property, introducing him bit by bit to his new home and the surrounding area. "Wombat walking" is an essential step to the successful "soft release" of a wombat. It allows them to be introduced to the area while being at "mums" heals - just as a wild wombat would do with their mother.
Our wombat walks were an absolute delight for both Fuddles and us! We would often take a little picnic hamper with us (full of wine and other delightful gourmet human and animal tidbits - no wine for the wombat though, of course!) and sit down allowing Fuddles to dig to his hearts content. His explorations were amazing to watch, his interest in his surroundings grew day by day as did his confidence. Each time he would wander just a little further away from us, constantly chattering to us, and us talking to him in return, so that he would know mum and dad were close by.
His play times were the best! In the early days he was a terror, biting ankles hard and scratching flesh. During his time with us though he settled down quite a bit and the bites during play time became quite soft. We have seen him break sticks thicker than our fingers with his powerful jaws, and yet he could be so gentle with us. It's gotta be love!
Watching Fuddles race off full speed in one direction then perform a lightening 180 degree turn - stop - lie flat on his belly with his nose in the air and baring his teeth before racing back to us was hilarious to watch. We were often in fits of giggles and more wine ending up being spilt on the ground than ending up in our mouths - blasted wombat!
After some time for Fuddles to settle in he was introduced to Keti and Alu with the hope that the three would form a tight bond. The first time Fuddles sniffed Alu's nose he literally pee'd himself and rushed into Todd's open arms, squealing all the way - Alu and Keti ran in the opposite direction! Not a good start, but not surprising as Fuddles had not encountered another wombat since being separated from his mother.
The second attempt was a little better, but as it turned out the three didn't really get on well and the girls and he only tolerated each other for our benefit. They would eat their treats together (oatmeal is the best, thanks mum!) and go on "wombat walks" together but ultimately one of them would get pee'd off with the other and a skirmish would ensue. Nothing drastic ever happened, just a warning nip here, a warning nip there!
After nearly a month of living in the enclosure Fuddles had decided it was time to be free - again the night air was filled with sounds of Fuddles calling to us and trying to rip the pen door down! The door was opened and Fuddles was allowed to leave the enclosure with the opportunity of returning for safety. It didn't take long however for Fuddles to move into the burrow that Tici, our first wombat, had lived in a few years earlier.
Tici had excavating some way past the concrete pipe that we began the burrow with and had made a sleeping chamber a few metres down.
Fuddles excavated even further and took the burrow around a corner where a new sleeping chamber was made. Here he lived for several months - close to home for support from mum and dad. Keti and Alu were moved into the wombat pen not long after Fuddles vacated it. The timing was perfect!
We continued our "wombat walks" with Fuddles and allowed him to come inside (in sectioned off areas) for "bonding" time. I believe it to be essential to have regular contact with hand raised critters during the soft release period. Some carers decide to to sever all contact with hand raised marsupials at certain stages depending on the species, and that's fair enough - their are several ways of release. I believe that allowing the animal to come and go as it pleases, and for it to decide when it's going to leave home, is the best way. This form of release, in my opinion, results in a much calmer and confident animal, and one that survives! It's always worked for me.
That's not to say that the animals get treated like pets. They do not get access to the whole house - in fact they only have access to the inside while we accompany them, they certainly don't get to sleep in our bed - and they don't get shown off to every visitor that pops in. They are treated like a native animal would be in the wild but in an artificial environment - and in the wild they are at mum's heal for some time.
As the animals get older the time in the house is reduced and then stopped altogether. Gradually contact with Todd and I is also slowly reduced. As time goes on the critter tends to wander further afield and spend more time either on their own or with their own species. Touch wood, I've never had a problem of a stranger being able to approach one of my raised and released animals when out in the paddocks, and indeed they will run for cover even if we approach too near.
As Fuddles grew, our "wombat walks" became less frequent as he was often off by himself exploring and grazing - and maybe looking for a girlfriend!
After walking in the neighbouring reserve we encountered lots of wombat scats and were excited that Fuddles might find a friend.
After several months of living in his first burrow he out grew it and moved into a bigger one that we started for him a few hundred metres down the paddock.
We thought that Fuddles had been living in the second burrow for some weeks before we walked past it one day as we collected grass for Alu and Keti.
We were wrong!
What we found was the concrete pipe that we had started the burrow with, but it had two entrances - one at each end, kind of like a straw. Looking inside we saw lots of spider webs, so it was clear he hadn't lived in it for some time.
Fuddles visits home had become less frequent and for shorter periods. After seeing his second burrow - somewhat demolished - I became rather worried. OK I admit it - I am an anxious "parent" and I wanted to make sure he was OK, so the following weekend we set off in the early hours of the morning to find him. Todd got up at the crack of dawn (while I waited in the warm bed - poor Todd!) and watched him as he ambled off toward his burrow to sleep the day away. We got the general direction he took but we searched for an hour and a half with no success.
As our tummies were grumbling ferociously we began to make our way back home - and "woohoo" we saw poo - wombat poo!!! The search was back on and half an hour later we were at a cliff edge, about 700 metres from our home, wondering where to go next.
Who knows why, but Todd decided to lie flat on the rock to look over the edge - seconds later he was up and scrambling down the cliff line - he had seen wombat diggings at the bottom!
I stayed at the top until Todd called out (as softly as he could so not to alert the resident wombat) that he'd found a burrow and then I was scrambling down the cliff line as quickly as I could without breaking my ankle. When I got to the bottom Fuddles was at Todd heals looking bleary eyed and confused! I'm sure he was thinking "huh, how did they find me?". We gave him a few water cracker treats (one of his favourites) which he ate slowly as he woke up - and then it was on for young and old. Seeing my ankles in front of him he lunged - and with full force - talk about "ouch"! I scrambled away from him as quickly as I could without falling down the hill but he persistently followed me. I decided to vacate the premises quickly and climbed the cliff in lightening speed!
Todd stayed with him for a little while longer (why my ankles were thought of as the enemy and not Todd's, I don't know) and encouraged him back into his burrow which he had made under the cliff line. He had made two entrances, one low on the cliff line and one a bit higher. Todd saw though that the burrow didn't go in too deeply and guessed that Fuddles wouldn't be in it for very much longer - it was more of an intermediate or temporary shelter burrow.
Fuddles went back into his burrow, turned around and lay at the entrance watching Todd, who left not long after. We were both happy to see that a wombat - who had begun his life essentially being raised as a pet - was learning to live on his own. We were proud foster parents indeed!
That evening Fuddles turned up on the verandah as happy as ever - he had forgiven us (or me, as it would seem) for finding his secret place! We found him with his nose buried in Todd's boot - aaarrrggghh, the sweet smell of Todd (not!). After some roo pellet treats he was off again and didn't return for the rest of the night.
That evening signaled a change in Fuddles behaviour. His visits home came sporadically, and days would go before we saw him again.
Whenever he returned his coat was perfectly clean, not like Alu or Keti in comparison. They were always covered in dirt and it billowed out in a dust cloud whenever we patted them. As Fuddles was so clean we assumed he was still living in his cliff line burrow.
Then one evening - not so long ago - Fuddles turned up while we were in the lounge room watching TV. We walked into the living room and there he was, sitting just inside the door (which some months before he had made his own special opening in, ie: ripped it from one end to the other!) - it looked as though he was waiting for us.
Fuddles visits were normally a laugh a second due to his mischievous antics, but this evening he was quite calm and rather affectionate. We gave him some treats which he ate with gusto, and he nuzzled into our hands as we tickled him under the chin. He took my finger in his mouth and just sat there, for a few seconds, gently chewing on it. He then had a bit of rough and tumble play with Todd followed by more nuzzling. We enjoyed his affectionate behaviour but didn't think too much of it at the time. We took him outside and gave him some more treats and returned indoors. A few minutes later we checked on him - his food was all gone and so was he - for good. We haven't seen him since.
We've been back down to the cliff burrow twice since then but it would appear he's moved out and dug himself a better burrow elsewhere. We've seen fresh wombat scats on our property (and on our verandah - the bugger) so we know that he's still around.
Me being the anxious mum, have demanded numerous searches of the area in case he'd hurt himself. Thankfully there has been no sign of an injured - or dead - wombat, just lots of poo!
Yeah, for Fuddles!
We're certain that his last evening with us was good-bye. A truly fond farewell.
After several months of not seeing Fuddles, he turned up on our verandah late the other night.
He is huge!
He looks very well - no signs of aggressive fighting, a gleaming coat and plenty of muscle!
After a chat and a treat he again disapeared into the night.