When a friend introduced me to Terry Wimberley, we couldn’t have been more different. I lived in the bush and he was a city boy from America! But Terry fell in love with Aussie animals – and we fell in love with each other.
So he moved to Australia and we set up home together. One day, I nursed an injured bandicoot back to health.
‘This is what we should do!’ Terry, now 70, said.
So we bought a 40-acre property in the outback and turned it into a sanctuary. Once the animals were well enough, we released them back into the wild. At one point we had eight roos hopping in the house, and when we married in 2001, my dog was a bridesmaid!
A few years later we decided to specialise.
‘I want to make a difference for bats,’ I said.
They’re often viewed as pests but they’re integral to the environment – and I adored them!
As word spread, people brought bats to us from all over. One was even airlifted 1000km from Mackay. We fixed him up, and three months later I trekked for two hours up a mountain to return him to his cave! It made it all worthwhile.
Orphaned babies need to be bottle-fed every two hours.
‘I can take five at once,’ Terry said, while I’ve learnt to balance nine on my lap.
Thankfully, we have lots of wonderful volunteers. When Pirates of the Caribbean 5 was being filmed in 2015, some of the crew even came to help us. One day, they rushed in a premmie red flying fox. She weighed just 38 grams – the same as 38 paper clips. We named her Jackie Sparrow after Johnny Depp’s character, and he even sponsored her.
One time, I had 130 micro bats in the lounge room.
‘Yep, ‘I’m home!’ Terry laughed when he got in.
Last November we were checking on a local colony when we noticed the babies had been abandoned. Grabbing what we could, we wrapped them in feather dusters and tea towels. Back at the clinic we had 320 orphans on bottles and dummies at once!
After a heatwave in February, thousands of bats fell out of the trees due to dehydration. Sadly we had to euthanise many. Those that had a fighting chance were put on tiny IV drips.
We currently have 500 flying foxes in our care. With no funding, we rely on donations for medicine, cleaning products and fruit. It costs about $200,000 a year to run the clinic and we’ve used our retirement fund to pay the bills.
But we wouldn’t have it any other way. Through our Facebook page, Australian Bat Clinic and Wildlife Trauma Centre, we’re able to show people these amazing animals.
We’re proudly batty for bats!
This story was originally published in that's life! Issue 14, 30 March 2017.