Derek rose to fame when captured on video frolicking across his local beach. It was a day like any other for the eight-month-old wombat joey.
But those sandy tracks led him to worldwide celebrity when his high-paced canter went viral.
Since then, Derek has become Flinders Island’s global poster boy. He’s had to ask his new sisters to manage promotional wares, and requested a cameraman fly in to cover his official greeting with Justin Johnstone from Melbourne, the winner of Tourism Tasmania’s Chief Wombat Cuddler Competition. Arguably one of Australia’s most hotly contested positions for 2016, Derek knew he’d want to capture their inaugural meeting.
“He’s only a bit over a year old, but he’s like a teenage boy now,” describes competition winner Justin Johnstone. “So he’s still very cute, but he’s a bit of a tear-away – a bit of a rebel. And he likes to chew things…”
Derek is the first to admit that behind every successful rescue wombat is a good carer. For Derek, it’s his foster Mum, Kate Mooney (#loveyoumywombatlady).
Coined the ‘Wombat Lady of Flinders Island’, Kate has nursed more than 100 wombats back to health over the past two decades for release back into the wild.
Kate scooped up Derek after his mother was sadly hit by a car. Ever since, Derek’s been behaving like an only child, despite Kate’s numerous other ‘children’ on her 40-hectare property.
“Derek was only 720 grams when I got him, and he’d now weigh about three-and-a-half kilos,” explains Kate Mooney. “He was an only child for the first six months that I had him, so I guess he became rather spoilt.” Although he no longer has bottles and will eventually head out the pet door to join the ‘bigger kids’ and never come back, according to Kate he, “…just loves people.”
Why the interest in Derek specifically?
“Wombats, in general, get to people. They tend to melt,” smiles Kate. “But Derek isn’t like the others. He’s adventurous and daring. Most don’t like to be out of the pouch, but he’s been a curious and cheeky little bloke since I found him. That makes him pretty special.”