One of the saddest things I’ve come across while working as a volunteer at the shelter is Poppy, a starving, orphaned agile wallaby. She was literally a bag of skin and bones when we rescued her. Her ribs and spine jutted sharply through her skin. Her mouth was dry and cracked, and ticks and lice covered her from head to tail. But, the most distressing part was her eyes dull and lifeless eyes. They seemed to plead for an end and did not show a will to continue living.
Tanya estimated her age to be about nine months old, and judging by her state of health, Poppy had probably been on her own for several weeks. We all assumed that her mother was dead as she surely wouldn’t have left her baby alone or let Poppy’s condition deteriorate to this extent if she wasn’t.
After a quick but thorough exam, Tanya didn’t find any bodily injuries on Poppy. Her major concern was the starvation and dehydration that plagued Poppy due to being on her own for so long. She was probably severely sleep deprived as well, because she would have been too scared to properly rest without a mob to look after her.
At the shelter, we treated Poppy with tick and lice medicine to kill all the little nasties on her body. These little suckers were definitely not helping her condition and the sooner we got rid of them the better. We also gave her a dose of vitamins to boost her immune system and tried giving her some milk. Despite her starving condition, Poppy was too weak (or maybe she’d given up on life?) to suck on the teat. The cracking on her mouth and lips didn’t help at all either. After several failed attempts to persuade her to drink on her own, we resorted to dribbling the formula into her mouth hoping she would swallow as much as possible.
After the feeding, Karlie simply held the little darling. For a while, we were afraid she would just give up on us. Sometimes life was just too hard or we got to the orphans too late. Going it alone is never easy, especially for these mob animals, and it tests their willpower. Losing a mother and a family crushes their spirit. Our job was to convince Poppy that she wasn’t alone anymore and that if she let us, we could take care of her and make her feel better again.
For days it was touch and go for Poppy. You could see how exhausted she was, and she never stirred much while resting. Sometimes we had to physically touch her to make sure she was still alive. She had a tendency to lie very still with her unfocused eyes gazing at something in the middle distance. She never flinched or took interest in anyone, including other joeys, who stopped by to visit the newcomer. When I held her, I was afraid she would die in my arms because she was so fragile and limp all the time. But if it came down to it, I suppose it’s better to die in a loving embrace than to die in an open paddock alone.
It took about a week or two for Poppy to start regaining some strength. She was finally able to hold her head up by herself, even though it wasn’t for very long. She seemed to accept that maybe the hard business of surviving on her own was over. She enjoyed being held and would relax into your arms out of contentment and not utter exhaustion. She loved it when we rubbed under her chin or scratched behind her ears.
Finally, after a month of constant love and affection, Poppy was well enough and release carers live in isolated bush areas away from other people, cars, dogs and other unnatural predators. The carers continue to raise the orphans and slowly reintroduce them to the wild.
Usually, there are wild mobs that roam around who will find the newcomer and entice him or her to join them. This is the result for which we hope – for the once injured or orphaned animal to find its own kind and rejoin a family. And if anyone deserves happiness, it’s Poppy.