Volunteer with Wombats

"Volunteer with Wombats" is the account of the exciting  adventure of helping a University project in Australia by the amazing volunteer Clare (yes, she also is a volunteer for Tree for Life!)

Clare recently volunteered with the University of Adelaide on a wombat catching, collaring and radiotracking trip.

Here's her experience!

Clare holding a sleepy wombat on her lap. Tough life!

(All pictures supplied by Clare)

How did you Find the Opportunity to Volunteer with Wombats?

As a Graduate of Charles Darwin University, Australia, the campus keeps me informed of volunteer opportunities in the Northern Territory region, but I have limited contacts to the Adelaide Universities.

So, it was during my husband’s best mate’s wedding that the groom’s Brother-In-Law spoke to me about a wombatting opportunity.

As I am between employment prospects and was not financially obliged to join this opportunity, I contacted the Brother-In-Law for further information on the PhD student, Casey O’Brien, (see below).

How to find volunteer opportunities?

Top Tips from Clare:

Be on University mailing lists regarding students looking for volunteers

Use any social gathering to share your interests - you never know who knows who!

Casey O’Brien; Honours in Biodiversity and Conservation, Flinders University and PhD Candidate of Adelaide University

How Long did you Volunteer with Wombats?

This was Casey’s last trip of the year and lasted two weeks in October / November.

I volunteered for a one week stint and chose to opt for the second half of the two week block.

This proved to be a good choice as the first week filled out pretty quickly.

Wombat sleeping in Clare's arms...

What does Volunteer with Wombats Mean Exactly?

The aim of the trip was to recapture the wombats that had GPS collars on.

So the days were spent radiotracking wombats and setting traps in place at wombat' burrows  and at night we would be spotlighting.

The first few days were quite intense due to the amount of people attending and my lack of experience, the second half of the week we spend a lot of time waiting for the collared wombats to turn up in camera footage or during spotlighting periods.


Wombat radiotracking

How was a Standard Day as a Volunteer with Wombats?

Given wombats are nocturnal, we spotlighted during the early hours of the morning from the back of a Ute.

In order to catch the wombats when spotted we ran after them in the dark with big butterfly nets.

Field work often runs into the early hours of the morning; however we could get plenty of time to sleep/rest during the day.


More wombat cuddles...

The wombats were held in the shed overnight, and the following day we processed them. We had plenty of opportunities for photos and wombat cuddles!


From left: Matt Koening (Hons); Chris Malam (Bachelor of Science (Honours) at University of Adelaide); Dr. David Taggart (Affliate Conservation Research Fellow, Adelaide University)

Wildhelpers Tip

While volunteering is a lot of fun (OK, and hard work, but who cares when you are authorised to cuddle wombats???), it is much more than that:

Volunteering experiences are great for your CV

You learn new skills that will help in any job / Master / PhD application

While volunteering, you might rubb shoulders with researchers that might later facilitate you getting into a Master or PhD program

You show you are serious about wanting to be part of conservation which again will help you getting a job etc.

You meet fantastic friends

Once the wombats have recovered from anaesthesia they were released where they were caught that afternoon/night.


Anaesthetised wombats having a good snore...

Where did you Stay while Volunteering with Wombats?

We stayed in an old shearing shed, which is powered, (Koolona Station, Swan Reach, SA).

For food preparation, we had access to fridges and cooking facilities (gas burners), as well as the all-important kettle for making coffee to keep you going all night.

This field site is quite luxurious, we had a coil heated shower and a long drop.

Accommodation was supplied through the shearers quarters (see picture) we provide foam mattresses all you need to bring is a pillow and warm sleeping bag, or any bedding you desire.


Building a wombat trap

Is there any Dark Side about being a Volunteer with Wombats?

What you don’t realise is netting a wombat is not easy, if they get wind of you, see you or hear you they will bolt down a hole before you realise what has happened.

We only had one spotlight which is aimed at the wombat, the hazard of this is managing to avoid the holes (stacks occur quite often and are rather amusing for the people watching) and get to the wombat before it goes down a burrow you will then get the opportunity to try and net the wombat.

You also run the risk of turning into a pin cushion, as bindii eye and horehound are prevalent on the site.

The other important element you need to take into consideration is just how heavy these creatures are, it’s quite a tricky process getting them from netting into a sack, onto the Ute from the Ute up the steps into the shed. Then processing them requires moving the wombats & sedating them for OH&S reasons and then collecting the necessary data.

An amazing sight: a baby wombat still in Mum's pouch (wombats are marsupials, just like kangaroos)

What a cool experience as a Volunteer with Wombats!

Thank you Clare for sharing it!

This was pretty full-on regarding skill gain: wombat catching, data collection, radiotracking, spotlighting: all of these are great skills for conservation projects!

Plus wombat cuddling obviously, a very important skill indeed!