Of all the weird and wonderful things for sale on the likes of Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree, you probably don’t expect to see a wombat.
But increasingly, that’s exactly what ACT Wildlife is coming across.
Lindy Butcher (aka, crazy_wombat_lady on Instagram) has rehabilitated and raised sick and injured wombats with ACT Wildlife for more than 27 years, including eight years in her own backyard.
“I’m absolutely hooked on them,” she says.
“I just think they’re the most amazing animals.”
At the moment, Tonka and Sydney are her “fur babies”, fed by bottle twice a day and either roaming the makeshift enclosure in her backyard or sleeping in their burrows the rest of the time.
It’s why she was very surprised to receive a message from a friend asking why Tonka was apparently up for sale in the UK.
Photos of the young wombat had been spotted on a Facebook group called ‘Wombats near me for sale or adoption’. The caption on the post read: “We all gain weight when we’re on holidays. Tonka is no different but he look [sic] so proud of his weight gain”.
Lindy says it’s an increasingly common online scam.
“It’s the second time this has happened, with the last one only a few months ago. My husband played along with the seller until we revealed who we were and the Facebook page disappeared.”
She says the scammers lift photos and information from animal-themed social media accounts like hers, and either attempt to lure in buyers or attract a following to the point they can sell merchandise like T-shirts, mugs, and more.
“Once they’ve got a good following of people who like these images, they start selling merchandise and making money on our work.”
Most use generic names like “Wombat Lovers” or “We Love Wombats”, and try to give the impression they’re the carers of the animals. Locations can vary too, from here in Australia to much further afield.
Cats and dogs are the usual bait, but Lindy says the scammers also like to play on “all the very interesting creatures people are fascinated by” such as sloths, pandas, tigers and sharks.
“I think people realise wombats are incredibly endearing creatures and someone might want to buy one, and our social media posts probably promote that,” she says.
It’s illegal to keep native animals as pets in Australia, let alone sell them, so the sick and injured wombats that come into ACT Wildlife’s care are only ever short-term visitors. Local volunteers like Lindy bring them home and rear them to return to the wild when they’re healthy again.
“We don’t sit around cuddling them or anything like that – we meet their needs,” she says.
“We want to keep them wild for an easy transition.”
What the scammers weren’t betting on was this close-knit wombat community.
“We all know each other, so when the friend sent me that message, we were able to follow up from there, and find other ones as well,” Lindy says.
She says ACT Wildlife is “actively seeking” the scams out and “trying to get them taken down”. But in the meantime, her top tip is to check the provenance of any animal photo online.
“If there’s no credit back to the owner of the original post, give them a wide berth. Give your support to the people who are doing the real care and rescue work on the ground.”