Vegemite - the wombat with nine lives

Today is Australia’s ninth National Wombat Day and at IFAW we think this is good reason to celebrate these fascinating creatures. We spoke to Donna Stepan, who specialises in the care and release of bare-nosed wombats at Sleepy Burrows, NSW. Donna had a touching story to share with us. -- JS

Toast and Vegemite grew up at Sleepy Burrows, learnt how to be wombats together and were eventually released at the sanctuary.Six years ago a 2kg female was brought to us clinging to life. She had been attacked by another wombat as her mother had been killed by a car.

Wombats are highly territorial, and this happens when a mother is killed and cannot protect her young. We named her Vegemite (Veg) as her wombat buddy was called Toast (Toast because when her mother was found, Toast was still in the pouch all toasty warm).

Toast and Vegemite grew up at Sleepy Burrows, learnt how to be wombats together and were eventually released at the sanctuary.

For years we have positioned feeding stations near the house, so the released wombats can be monitored .

We saw Veg came back to the feeding station almost every night, she was a real regular. Once she disappeared for about four days – however, she returned by with a bad case of pneumonia, which is a common ailment in wombats when seasons change.

Again, we brought her back to health until finally she was released back to the bush. So off she went!

Three years passed, everybody was happy and through regular monitoring we knew Veg was thriving. But once again, when she did not come to the feeding station, we worried. Wombats are creatures of habit so any break in routine often means something has happened.

Then one Friday night, as I was going out to put food in the feeding stations, my husband Phil called to me that a wombat was sitting at the front of our truck, not moving.

It was Veg. She had finally come home but was in a very bad way. She had a 10cm deep slash behind her neck, which may have been a knife wound or from a car.

During her life saving surgery, I noticed Veg’s pouch moving – a joey!

We were all concerned as there was a good chance her baby would not survive the surgery. But we had to continue saving Veg - how our incredible vet Joseph managed to sew her neck together, I just don’t know!

Weeks of worry followed for Veg and her joey (who we named VB, after Veg and her father Boney Bum). The risk of infection was very high for Veg and she had to be kept in a sterile environment. We also had to make sure the stitches didn’t break, which required 24 hours a day monitoring. This was quite a task for us.

But, we managed!

Over the next eight months, Veg recovered beautifully. Her joey grew and eventually ventured out of the pouch. Veg incredibly always made sure her joey was safe and with her, even when in pain.

As VB grew, Veg taught her what a wombat needs to do and VB is now one gorgeous digging machine. She is still with Veg and will be for the next year at least.

Veg and VB live at one of the burrows close to the house. Every evening we have the pleasure of watching them, knowing there is nothing better than putting effort into saving these very special animals.


In a cruel twist of fate, Veg’s father, Boney Bum recently passed away as a result of being hit by a car. Donna was devastated. Sadly this is the cold reality that our amazing wildlife carers face on a daily basis. So let’s celebrate the life of Boney Bum and his fellow friends. We would love to hear from you - are you a wombat fan? How will you be celebrating National Wombat Day? Do you have any wombat stories to share? -- JS

Nov 2013: Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary home to Vegemite, VB and Boney Bum, recently reported that Boney Bum has left another legacy. Of the three females in his territory, one of them, Daphne, is currently pregnant. Long live Boney Bum! 

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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Gail A'Brunzo, Manager, Animal Rescue-Wildlife
Manager, Animal Rescue-Wildlife, IFAW HQ
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
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Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy