Have you ever come across an injured animal and wondered how to help? Perhaps it was a kangaroo laying on the side of the road after being hit by a vehicle? Or a magpie with a broken wing? Or a possum stuck in a gutter? At the Emergency Response Service at Wildlife Victoria, we're here to help you and the local community in these distressing situations. Every day, we receive calls from members of the public throughout Victoria noticing animal suffering, and wanting assistance to find the best possible solution for these critters. As you can imagine, factors such as increased urbanisation mean that more and more animals come in contact with humans and end up in need of help as a direct result of these interactions.
Wildlife Victoria is a state-wide, not-for-profit organisation that relies on donations to help reduce the suffering of injured, sick or orphaned native animals, including a range of birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians. We rely on a network of dedicated volunteers: 1,500 rescuers and carers throughout Victoria carry out this huge task. This year alone, we received a staggering 77,364 requests for assistance, and, in fact, 80% of these originated from the Melbourne metropolitan area.
You can probably guess what our most rescued species are, as they’re most likely the ones you come across the most. Kangaroos make up about a fifth of all of our rescues and are number one on our list, most of the time because they’ve been hit by vehicles, or have been displaced from their habitat. Ringtail possums, which have adapted to a wide range of habitats and are commonly seen in suburbia, are second on the top five rescued species list, with collisions with vehicles, pet attacks, and encounters within buildings being the most common causes for concern. Ducks make up for about 10% of our cases, as they’re often seen crossing busy roads, especially in spring, or are negatively impacted by rubbish. Brushtail possums and magpies require our attention in 5% of cases, with issues such as pet attacks, collisions with vehicles, and babies found out of their nests.
If you’re ever been in need of assistance and have called the service, you’ll know that our phone lines are busy throughout the day, with an average of 200 phone calls keeping us occupied each day, as well as webcases directly logged on our website. When you call, you will get to talk to one of our trained Emergency Response Operators, who will first gather all the relevant details for the case before deciding what the best way to help is. We provide advice and information whenever the case is regarding a non-native, or introduced species, or when sending a rescuer is not necessary. As it's not legal to release non-native species back into the wild and our organisation has limited resources, we cannot attend to these animals.
Some cases require no more than monitoring the situation without having to take the animal away from its natural habitat, or small actions people without knowledge of our native wildlife can take, such as making a fake nest for a bird that could have been found on the ground.
Most times and if possible, it’s better for the animal’s welfare to take it to the nearest vet clinic where they will be assessed, free of charge. When we ascertain that an animal needs to be rescued, we contact our network of amazing and hard-working everyday superheroes to organise rescues. They are the ones that like to get their hands dirty and are trained and experienced to handle these situations. All rescuers are volunteers and provide assistance on top of their day job and busy everyday lives. Whether the situation requires them to check the pouch of a marsupial that has been found dead on the side of the road, catch a parrot with a contagious disease, or pick up a lizard that has been injured by a pet cat or dog, they're here to help and their energy and passion will hopefully inspire you to help our native wildlife even more.
Once animals have been rescued, they're taken to a vet clinic; here, they will be assessed and treated, free of charge. Vet clinics are a critical link in the rehabilitation process as they're the first point of call to provide a bit of relief for injured and distressed animals. Vets allow us to know whether animals will be able to make it and should be transferred to a rehabilitation facility. They provide important information such as the weight and sex of marsupials before they go to care so they can be buddied up with another animal of similar characteristics, the progression of specific diseases and whether they can be treated, or the severity of specific wounds. Unfortunately, in cases where animals have been too severely injured or are too sick to be cured, the kindest option may be to humanely put them to sleep, as otherwise their quality of life would be compromised. Liaising with vets allows us to know which animals need rehabilitation and we often assist them in finding the right people to take them to. In some instances, particularly in rural areas, finding a vet nearby might be more challenging and we may contact a licenced carer directly to find these critters temporary homes.
A network of volunteer transporters helps link vets and carers when animals are fortunate enough to have a good prognosis and licensed carers have been found. Carers work tirelessly, looking after animals that might need feeds every couple of hours, which is the case for the smallest joeys as well as some birds. If you’re a parent, you can probably easily recall having a hungry newborn crying in the middle of the night to be fed. During some times of the year, this is the carer’s everyday life! Joey marsupials will stay with them for months, so they can grow from a critter that fits in the palm of your hand to a capable, hopping and self-feeding individual.
However, carers also receive animals that need monitoring for short periods of time to make sure they can be returned to the wild, to their territories and families. These carers rely on their extensive experience to give animals the best possible chance of surviving, allowing them to go back to their normal life in nature. As cute and cuddly as the feather and fur babies they receive are, their job is a tiring one and a full-time commitment. They are also the ones to organise releases back to the wild, in small steps so the animals are not too disoriented and can slowly readapt to being in the wild.
Making sure our wildlife are treated with respect, rescued professionally when needed, and rehabilitated with love and devotion involves a lot of effort and a lot of dedicated people. So if you see a native animal in distress or even if you’re not sure, call Wildlife Victoria on 13 000 94535, and we'll give you the advice you need or send someone to the rescue.
Elodie came to Australia where she recently completed a PhD in seabird ecology at Deakin University, after studying marine biology in Europe. She is passionate about the natural world and its protection. She is also a dive instructor and Emergency Response Operator at Wildlife Victoria.
You can find her on Twitter at @ECamprasse.
Banner image courtesy of Wildlife Victoria.