Founder of Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary receives Medal of the Order of Australia

LOVE FOR WOMBATS: Ms Donna Stepan with Dawn at Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary, Gundaroo. The wildlife carer has received an OAM for her service to animal welfare. Photo: Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary.
LOVE FOR WOMBATS: Ms Donna Stepan with Dawn at Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary, Gundaroo. The wildlife carer has received an OAM for her service to animal welfare. Photo: Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary.

As a volunteer wildlife carer for 16 years and founder of Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary in Gundaroo, Ms Donna Lisa Stepan has always done it for the love and welfare of animals, particularly the short-legged and furry marsupials – not only in the region but nationally as well.

Ms Stepan, based in Gundaroo, has been included on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for 2017, receiving an OAM for her service to animal welfare that includes:

  • Founder: Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary
  • Foundation member: Native Animal Rescue Group New South Wales
  • Volunteer wildlife care
  • Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary

Ms Stepan said the the recognition came as a shock.

“I still don’t know who nominated me. I understand the level of recognition, but it’s never been about me but about the wombats instead. That’s what I want to highlight,” Ms Stepan said.

Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Ms Stepan worked with animals there before arriving in Australia in 1999. She said her love the wombats came from two things.

“I was so homesick and wanted to get back home. To combat that, I began working with animals and I started with wombats because they didn’t really have a voice like cats and dogs,” she said.

As well, she witnessed an event that spurred her on to protecting the species.

“One night I was sitting on the side of a road, watching wombats and saw three young men hitting one and then driving off. I sat with it until it died. It was a big fire in me. The anger I felt that night, which I can still feel, began it all.”

In 2006, she founded the Gundaroo sanctuary for wombats, which specialises in rescue and rehabilitation of injured and orphaned wombats. It also addresses cruelty cases and illegal pet wombats. All work is done on a voluntary basis and the charity is funded privately and via donations.

The sanctuary also allows people to develop deeper understanding of the wombats and, in turn, a passion in people for the species.

If it adds substance to what we do with wombats, I’d be happy with that. Through the recognition, if I can raise profiles, that’d be priceless. If it adds value and education, that’s a win.

Donna Stepan, founder of Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary

Ms Stepan said she hoped the recognition becomes a driving force to raise more awareness and action about ensuring the species survive.

“If it adds substance to what we do with wombats, I’d be happy with that. Through the recognition, if I can raise profiles, that’d be priceless. If it adds value and education, that’s a win,” she said.

Ms Stepan said the ultimate goal was to release them back into the bush where they belong.

”Some people argue if it’s worth it. It is because it’s always a learning experience about how to release them back to the bush,” she said.

Asked about her goals, Ms Stepan said her driving force is to keep advocating for wombats.

“Every day, I feel like I’m losing the battle with addressing issues about what may drive wombats to extinction. But places like these will be the ones making differences in the future and the OAM reiterates that for us,” she said.