The wombat's plight

How Cedar Creek Wombat Rescue and Hospital is saving thousands of wombats.
Proudly presented by The Happy Wombat, Newcastle.

It takes a special sort of person to dedicate their life to animals.

It’s selfless. It’s demanding and it’s exhausting. But, it’s exactly what Roz and Kevin Holme have spent 35 years doing.

Nestled away from the hustle and bustle of any city, deep into the bushland of Wollombi, is a refuge for hurting wombats and the nurturing arms of Roz and Kev.

Together, the couple has built a wombat hospital on their 200 acre property, complete with makeshift ICU areas for severely hurt wombats and pens for ones on the mend. In mid-November the couple had 21 wombats in their care.

The hospital has everything a surgeon would need and is manned by Roz, a trained vet nurse, who now is leading the way in wombat treatments.

ICU is a horse float, pens made up on the verandah or in their home.

Apart from all the purpose-built enclosures, there’s also the many hectares of free land that wombats, kangaroos and the like are free to roam about in. 

Everything has been built by Roz and Kev, with the help of friends, volunteers and donations.

Cedar Creek Wombat Rescue and Hospital was built in response to the plight of the bare nosed wombat about 11 years ago. The loss of habitat, dog attacks, increased wildlife carnage and the debilitating disease mange, contributed to the decline of the Australian marsupial. Roz and Kev were determined to change that.

Roz says one of the biggest misconceptions in the industry is that mange isn’t treatable and for that reason, many wombats are left to die.

Mange is caused by a mite, which lays thousands of eggs on the wombat’s body, causing crusting of the skin to start.

“If it’s left alone, it will be fatal,” Roz says.

“But, if you catch it early enough, we can save them. I’ll always give it a go. We try to save everything.”

Their treatment of mange extends further than just rescuing injured wombats, Roz and Kev go out into the field every Saturday to clear the disease from bushland and burrows. They spent months clearing mange from their property before building a hospital on it.

“It’s the main reason we got into this, because vets would euthanise wombats with mange,” Roz says.

“If we didn’t do it, who would?”

Roz estimates they’ve saved thousands of wombats. She knows, because many of them find their way back to her property for a visit, months and even years, after they’ve been rescued and released.

She confirms their identity through the microchips she implants in her rescues and sometimes, she can just tell if it’s one of her own.

“It’s really expensive to do it this way, but I like to see that what I've done has worked when they return, which they always do,” she says.

“Once they are released they are welcome to come back and they do come knocking on the door.”

"I'll always give it a go. We try to save everything."

Mange is often mistaken for dog attack wounds and vice versa, but Roz can always tell the difference with just a sniff of her nose.

“Every time I see them, I can smell whether it’s mange or an infection from a dog bite, it just comes naturally,” she says.

While mange is always a concern, there’s been a rise in dog attack injured wombats. Some of the injuries Roz has seen just this year have been distressing. She says in most cases, domestic dog attacks are worse than wild ones because domestic dogs try to play with the wombats by continuously biting them and doing more damage. Whereas, wild dogs attack for food and won’t keep biting the wombat.

These attacks often lead to infection, because they are left untreated until put in Roz and Kev’s care.

They need to be put to sleep, opened up, the infection flushed out and then ointment rubbed on regularly. Roz does this work on her own and for this reason, Kev acts as the playful father for the wombats. He’s there to run around with them and give them belly rubs while Roz treats them. Together, they make the perfect team.

“Kev is like their play toy, I like to have someone they trust and have fun with,” she says.

"Every time I see them, I can smell whether it's mange or an infection from a dog bite, it just comes naturally."

Together they will do all they can to save the wombats that come into their care. They even have cameras installed in the pens to keep an eye on the nosy marsupials.

They’ll only be released when Roz feels comfortable they will survive in the bush.

The process is slow, they get moved into bigger pens, with native bush enclosed and are let out to explore the property with supervision, before the pen is opened up for good and the wombats roam free.

Roz and Kev’s work keeps them up late at night, and early in the morning. They answer calls all day, every day, because every wombat life is worth saving.

Animals have been a part of their life forever, they both grew up with wildlife, worked in wildlife and fell in love around animals.

Roz remembers from a young age bringing wild rabbits home and her father always saying fshe could raise them, she could raise anything. And she did.

She continues to do so with Kev by her side. Their devotion to wildlife has not been left unrecognised, with Roz awarded a Pride of Australia Medal for Volunteer of Year for the Environment in 2015.

Although it’s been more than three decades since they started, they have no intention of stopping, because like Roz says, if they didn’t do this work, who would?

"If we didn't do it, who would?"

Pictures: Simone De Peak

Words and production: Dominica Sanda