Friday, October 31, 2008

Where's Wendell?

If you think you see a wallaby on the loose in the Ottawa Valley and can't believe your eyes, be assured that it's not just a kid in a very realistic Hallowe'en suit. It seems we have a young wallaby running (relatively) wild.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

OTTAWA-A panicked wallaby is on the loose in the Ottawa Valley after Tuesday night's windy storm blew over a tree that broke open the kangaroo and wallaby pen at Saunders Country Critters and Garden Centre in Kemptville.

Five kangaroos and wallabies were originally on the run in North Grenville after the tree took down a six-metre panel in the animals' pen. But only Wendell, a three-year-old Bennett's Red Necked Wallaby, remains on the loose, and was last spotted in Athens, Ont. - more than 80 kilometres southwest of Kemptville -by an elderly woman Thursday morning. And as of last night, there had been three more sightings in the area.

"They saw the opening, hopped out and just kept hopping," said Saunders Country Critters co-owner Carla Saunders, who sounded a little panicked and distraught herself early Thursday morning.

"I feel terrible," she said. "We just want Wendell home."

By Thursday afternoon, when Mrs. Saunders had heard of the first sighting in Athens, she was more hopeful for the animal's safe return.

"It's definitely Wendell," she said, adding that her husband and Country Critters co-owner, Gary Saunders, headed to Athens as soon as he heard and he saw Wendell's tracks for himself.

"The last tracks my husband saw were a four-footed hop, which means he's tired," she added.

The animals were reported missing to the Grenville OPP Wednesday afternoon, but three of them didn't venture too far from home and were easily recovered. Rudy, the kangaroo, was spotted later in the day by neighbours about 15 kilometres from the farm on County Road #44 and quickly brought back home.

As for Wendell, Mrs. Saunders is worried about how long he can last in the cold weather.

"He's a little chunky monkey, so he's got some extra meat and potatoes on him. But that's not going to last him for too long," she said.

Friends and staff of the Saunders have been combing the bush day and night with the hope of uncovering their precious little critter. In addition to the foot patrols, they have also been hanging towels - soaked with the urine of the other kangaroos and wallabies - in the trees around the farm, hoping the familiar scent will draw Wendell home.

Mrs. Saunders said the animal has a terrible sense of direction, so they're trying to attract him by other means, but all attempts have been unsuccessful.

Mrs. Saunders said Wendell only stands about 75 centimetres tall - she described the Bennett's wallaby breed as "kangaroo wannabes" - and would not be dangerous if approached.

If someone spots Wendell, Mrs. Saunders said they should throw a blanket on top of him, grab him by the tail and drop him into a pillowcase, which would simulate the comfort and protection of a mother wallaby's pouch. She also urges that if anyone spots him to call the farm at 613-258-1108.

Another search group will head out to Athens at 6:30 a.m. Friday.

Wendell was born and raised at the farm, so the Saunders' family feels a particular attachment to him, she said.

"They're like members of your family," she said. "He would always greet me with a big hug in the morning."

Mrs. Saunders has been running the farm, exotic zoo and garden centre with her husband since 1992. She said they have never had an animal leave the property.

"I'm hoping that once he hears our voices, he'll settle down and we'll be able to get him."

Edit: Unfortunately, if you have not heard, Wendell was found dead shortly after I posted that story. Mrs Saunders received a mnumber of calls to the effect that Wendell has been seen somewhere or other, but none led to finding him. She does not believe that any of the calls were intended pranks simply people trying to help but providing incorrect information.

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