As a wombat rescuer in Canberra, Yolandi Vermaak has her fair share of shocking wildlife stories, but none as unbelievable as the one she's currently living through.
After a "carnage day" of attempting to rescue over five wombats on Tuesday, she arrived on scene where one had died after being hit with a car.
"When I turned the wombat over to check if it was a boy or a girl, I saw that she had a pouch, but her pouch was cut open," she told Yahoo News Australia.
"The pouch itself was stretched, so I know a baby was living in there," she said. "Whatever was inside is now missing."
The wildlife carer shared with Yahoo it is her belief that someone has "stolen" the wombat, after purposefully cutting open the mum's pouch, and has now decided to keep the animal for themself.
'There's no excuse'
Wombat rescuers often advocate for the public to check the pouches of dead animals, with the practice saving many joeys' lives. However, Yolandi says the babies should always be handed over to authorities if there's any hope for the animal's survival.
"Unfortunately wombats that aren't raised by licensed carers usually die because they're compromised when not looked after properly," she said.
"They're either fed the wrong stuff, or left in really horrific conditions, or attacked by dogs. They eventually die of stress or their growth is stunted.
"There's no excuse other than being selfish and wanting to take a cute little animal home," she said, before emphasising: "They're not pets."
Wildlife carers are fighting hard to avoid these native animals from becoming extinct, with collisions with cars and sarcoptic mange being the two main threats to wombat lives. The disease is so contagious and threatening to the species that the NSW Government pledged to invest $2.8 million towards treatment last year.
The incident regarding the wombat joey on Tuesday has left the wildlife carer to desperately plea for the animal's safe return, saying "no judgement or questions" would be asked if the offender were to simply hand over the animal to any vet or wildlife rescuer in the area.
"Just surrender the joey," she pleaded plainly.
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