Story reveals hidden message in award-winning Aussie photo

Photographer Doug Gimesy spoke to Yahoo News Australia about his win at the Big Picture Natural World Photography competition.

“I was watching her feed the wombat and the light was beautiful. Then when she finished, she just put her nose up close to snuggle it and I took two frames.”

Speaking with Yahoo News Australia, Aussie wildlife photojournalist Doug Gimesy has recalled the fleeting moment in September he snapped an animal carer after she bottle-fed a cute tiny orphan.

In June, his image 'Bare nose to Bare-nosed wombat’ won the Human/Nature category at BigPicture Natural World Photography — an international competition based in California that received over 7000 submissions.

A close-up image showing veterinary student Aldana snuggling with a 4-month-old rescued bare-nosed wombat named Maude at the Joey and Bat Sanctuary.
Veterinary student Aldana snuggles with a 4-month-old rescued bare-nosed wombat named Maude at the Joey and Bat Sanctuary. Source: Doug Gimesy

While he’s elated by the win, his success is only half of the story and Doug wants to refocus the attention on the wombat featured in his photo. There's a conservation message hidden in his image that you might not be aware of without knowing her story.

Conundrum over where to release Maude the wombat

Maude was just four-months-old when the now world-famous photograph was taken, but days earlier her life took a dramatic turn when her mother was struck by a vehicle in an outer suburb of Melbourne. Luckily for her, a motorist stopped and checked the dead marsupial's pouch.

Months later, Maude is now much bigger and being prepared for release. It’s normal practice to try and return wildlife back to the general area they were found, but Doug has just discovered there’s a problem.

“Maude was brought in from Whittlesea, but she won’t be going back home because there’s a housing estate there now,” he said. “It’s just heartbreaking in so many ways.”

Australia's wildlife losing home to development

Located north of the city, the once-green paddocks of Wittlesea are rapidly being transformed into urban sprawl and wildlife across the region is losing habitat and falling victim to increasingly busy roads. In February, Yahoo reported on a mother kangaroo who tried desperately to revive her baby after it was struck by a car in the suburb.

The problem is being repeated across Australia, even endangered species like koalas are losing their homes across the Gold Coast and Sydney. But the once abundant bare-nosed wombat is also disappearing from the landscape.

“The bare-nosed wombat is also called the common wombat, but that’s a little bit misleading because they’re becoming less and less common. And one of the key reasons is habitat destruction,” Doug said.

Important message hidden in award-winning photograph

Entering competitions is important to Doug because it raises awareness about the plight of Australia’s wildlife. And he’s shared two other sad images to highlight the peril our native animals face.

“One of the key messages is it’s always important to check a dead marsupial’s pouch, or at least call a wildlife organisation so someone else can do it,” Doug said. “Maude would have died a horrible death all alone if someone hadn’t bothered to check her pouch. That means hyper or hypothermia, dehydration, starvation or being predated on by another animal.”

A dead wombat lies across the edge of the road after being struck by a car. Only its body can be seen.
A dead wombat lies across the edge of the road after being struck by a car. Source: Doug Gimesy

Rather than referring to wildlife deaths as “road kill”, he prefers to use the phrase “road trauma”.

“That’s because we know that around 50 per cent of animals hit by cars don’t die straight away. So they either die a horrible slow death or live on maimed,” he said.

“A lot of people who hit animals are traumatised, if there is a joey inside they’re traumatised. And also people who have to euthanise injured animals are traumatised…I think “road kill” is a brutal, inappropriately nondescript term of the outcome, not the process.”

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