Rescuer defends footage of daughter 'playing' with wild animal

Wildlife carer Josh Neille believes the bond is beneficial for both his daughter and the animals he rehabilitates.

There are increasing concerns over the "messaging" of one wildlife carer's social media content as videos continue to emerge of his young daughter interacting and "playing" with the animals in his care.

However, the rescuer — Josh Neille from Tinamba, Victoria — told Yahoo News Australia on Friday he strongly believes the close bond his daughter creates with the range of different "critters" is better for all involved.

Josh often documents his rehabilitation efforts online and has recently uploaded many videos of his daughter Ashlee getting up close and personal with a wombat named Gomez.

Left, Ashlee lies on her back with the wombat on her chest. Right, she cuddles into it with her legs stretched out and her body over the wild animal.
Wildlife carer Josh Neille has defended footage of his daughter Ashlee 'playing' with a wild animal. Source: Instagram

Public praise 'adorable' interaction between Ashlee and wombat

The videos have been inundated with comments from Aussies — as well as people viewing from the UK and US — wishing they could experience the "cute" and "adorable" animal interaction themselves.

"This made my day! Now I need a wombat and a granddaughter to haul it around like a teddy bear!" one said. "A best friend wombat?! I can't handle, how cute," another wrote.

'Entirely wrong message' conveyed, rescuers fear

However, within wildlife communities many are "worried" the content is sending the wrong message to the public by humanising wild animals and treating them like pets. There are fears this behaviour could be adopted by others and increase the likelihood of negative interactions between animals and children.

Wildlife rescuer Sue Booth spoke to Yahoo News Australia in June after a video of Ashlee bottle feeding another wombat went viral. She said Josh was "teaching the girl that animals are toys" which is the "entirely wrong message".

"I've got bruises all over me, wombats aren't vicious but they play...they have sharp little teeth, they can break skin...this girl is at risk," she said.

Even hand reared wombats can pose a risk, with experienced carer Beth Nasser being "brutally" attacked in October by an animal she had cared for since it was a joey. She sustained an injury which almost cost her her hand.

Ashlee bottle feeds a wombat (left) and cuddles into it (right).
Wildlife rescuer Sue Booth has previously shared her concern over the young girl interacting with wombats. Source: Instagram
Left, the bite mart can be made out on the rescuer's right palm, with stitches in a U shape. Right. Beth Nasser lies in a hospital bed.
Experienced wombat rescuer Beth Nasser was attacked by one of her hand reared animals and had to undergo surgery. Source: Instagram

Wildlife carer defends his daughter's 'comforting' bond

Josh told Yahoo he is aware of the unease which surrounds his online content but believes the animals are often "comforted" by his daughter, and that she has a "special way" with them.

"There is always going to be some controversy about some of the videos painting the picture that wombats are good pets, however, I in no way condone this view," he said. "They [the animals] are at a young age comforted by people...they can thrive and grow."

He explained that when the animals reach maturity they are "weaned off human interaction" for the safety of both the animal and his daughter. Many who view his content "don't bother" to take this into consideration, he believes.

"I have never had a wildlife carer reach out and help guide me...I work with the Victorian government department and they check in regularly," he said.

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