REAL LIFE

Meet Australia’s real-life Dr Dolittle!

She's helped save 7,000 animals

For more than 20 years Judy Hopper, 62, has dedicated her life to helping native animals in need.

Now, she’s shared her inspiring story about how she’s helped rescue 7,000 animals.

Rolling over in bed one morning, I tried not to make a sound.

If I stay really quiet, maybe I’ll get to sleep in, I thought.

But my 14-month-old wombat, Emily, had other ideas. Scratching at my door, she made it clear that if I didn’t get up to feed her right away, she’d do her best to dig her way under!

So, tossing back the covers, I headed to the kitchen to make up bottles of formula for her and her wombat friends, Alinta and Sir Wobbles, along with Guma the wallaroo.

It might seem crazy to some, but it’s all in a day’s work as a wildlife carer.

From as early as I can remember, my parents, Margaret and Alan, taught me to love and respect all animals. Taken on family outings to the zoo as a young girl, I loved learning all about different creatures and where they came from.

And, living in rural Victoria, we’d have injured wildlife land on our doorstep from time to time.

One day when I was 12, Dad went to pull on a pair of overalls when suddenly a little microbat crawled out of his pocket.

‘You take good care of him,’ he said, placing the tiny bundle in my hands.

Fashioning a nest for him out of an old billy can, I did my best to keep the bat safe and warm as he came and went as he pleased.

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Sir Wobbles (Credit: Charlie Koning – Blimey Charlie Photography)

Over the years, I never forgot about my special little friend.

In August 2000, I decided to volunteer for my local wildlife group and enrolled in a course to learn how to properly take care of sick and injured flying foxes.

Three months later, I got my first call about a baby bat that needed to be nursed back to health.

I named her Ali. Over time, the injuries to her body recovered and after releasing her in January 2001, I missed her so much, I cried for three whole days.

It felt good to take care of something so precious and give it the chance to live a full and happy life in the wild, where it belonged.

A short time later, I was tasked with looking after another flying fox who’d been found almost paralysed.

Gently drip feeding him fruit juice through a syringe, I hoped that time would heal his wounded body.

Incredibly, by his third feed, he’d regained enough strength to lift his wing to my wrist and help guide the syringe to his mouth.

Around two years later, I adopted two orphaned flying foxes who’d been injured as babies and so would never learn to fly.

Naming them Edwin and Cheeky, they acted as companions for other rescued bats who came to be in my care.

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Akiki the grey flying fox (Credit: Supplied)

Soon, I decided to open my heart and home to other animals in need, including possums, wallabies, kangaroos, wombats and even a bearded dragon. Before long, I had all kinds of creatures tucked away in every corner of my house. 

One day, when a friend came to visit, she asked to use the bathroom.

‘As long as you don’t mind sharing it with a goanna and two turtles,’ I laughed.

It was like I was a real-life Doctor Dolittle!

Sadly, in 2011, Edwin suffered a severe leg fracture due to having osteoarthritis, so I made the heartbreaking decision to put him down.

When the devastating bushfires erupted across the country last summer, I was inundated with almost 300 baby flying foxes who had been abandoned by their mothers. Due to extreme temperatures, their food supply had completely dried up, so the starving mums had no choice but to leave their offspring behind.

Setting up a production line in my living room with a team of other dedicated volunteers, I felt like the feeding frenzy would never end! It was one of the most challenging periods of my life, but as I watched them grow stronger over time, it made the hard work worthwhile.

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Me with my volunteer friends Connie, Archer and Michelle (Credit: Charlie Koning – Blimey Charlie Photography)

Now, after 20 years of working as a wildlife volunteer, I estimate I’ve helped save around 350 animals per year. That’s about 7000 animals in total!

Although sometimes I think it’d be lovely to relax in an elegant lounge room, or have my friends around for a fancy dinner party, 

I wouldn’t trade being a volunteer for the world.

Often people will ask why I put myself under so much pressure, but the truth is, I couldn’t imagine my life any other way.

Though I’ve never had human kids of my own, I feel blessed to look after so many different animals.

Thankfully, the cost of food and equipment to help look after them is now covered by generous donors  as my only income is a carer’s pension for looking after my friend, Bev.

I feel so privileged to be able to provide a safe environment for injured animals where they can trust they’ll be looked after.

I’m certain that looking after animals is the reason I was put on this earth.

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I know that this is my calling (Credit: Charlie Koning – Blimey Charlie Photography)

Ways to help

  • According to WIRES, if you come across sick, injured or orphaned wildlife, remove any threat to the animal, including other people and pets, if it is safe to do so. Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, when touching any animal and find somewhere warm, dark and quiet to keep the animal before contacting your nearest wildlife rescue centre. It’s important to remember not to try to feed the animal or give it a drink as it may cause distress. WIRES recommends you do not approach snakes, monitor lizards, bats, kangaroos, wallabies or raptors, including falcons or hawks.
  • If you accidentally hit an animal while driving, please call your local wildlife rescue centre so the animal can get the help it needs. No-one will judge you.
  • If you would like to volunteer but don’t have the capacity to have animals in your home, you can help your local wildlife centre by manning phones, transporting injured wildlife or training to become a carer just like Judy. You can also donate directly to the Native Animal Trust Fund online, givenow.com.au/nativeanimaltrustfund

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