I chat to Ebony from Wildcare Australia about being a volunteer carer for injured and abandoned wildlife, and the best ways to get involved in wildlife rescue in your area.
Meet Ebony. All images from Cooked by Stars
Is wildlife rehabilitation a paid job for you or do you do it in your spare time?
Unfortunately, wildlife caring is pretty much always done in a volunteer capacity. The only time you can do it as a ‘career’ is by working with captive animals at zoos or in a medical area at a wildlife hospital which deals with the animals before they go to a carer.
What training / qualifications do you need to look after Australian native wildlife?
It varies depending on which state you live in. You are best off looking up your local parks and wildlife department and seeing what permits are needed. In Queensland, you need to join a wildlife group and then complete training every year on the particular species you want to keep a permit for. Certain speciality species like koalas, cassowaries, tree kangaroos (etc.) have restricted permits which take more training to obtain.
How much of a time commitment is required? Does it vary per species (i.e. possums vs. flying foxes)?
Species play a big role in determining the time you will need to commit each day. Baby birds might need to feed every 15-20 minutes from sun up to sun down, whereas a pinky joey will feed every 2-3 hours. Feeds just go up in lengths of time from there. Aside from feeding, you also have to consider the time spent administering medications, cleaning out cages and washing bedding, as well as vet checks, rescues and food prep (preparing bugs for some species, cutting native leaf every day for others).
Could someone who is working full time ever be able to do this kind of job?
If you work a 9-5 job you can still be a carer, however it will depend on the species of animal you want to care for. Some workplaces allow animals at work which means you could still care for babies on feeds around the clock (depends if you are okay with minimal sleep too!).
There is also the option of caring for injured adults or juvenile animals that only need growing or recovery time in aviaries. Reptiles often just need feeding once a week. The main thing to remember is the length of time the animal will be in care. If you get a baby animal, you could have it anywhere from a few months (some birds) to over a year for roos. This means you are pretty restricted when it comes to going away on weekends or nights out.
Could you explain a bit about the process?
I rescue for the group Wildcare Australia and also for the RSPCA. In these situations, a member of the public contacts one of the organisations and then their call is directed to me if it’s in my rescue area. A lot of animals also come to me via other carers or the RSPCA Wildlife Hospital. Plus, I’m the ‘Possum Coordinator’ for Wildcare in Brisbane, so all the possums that come into care in our group get called into me and I work out who they need to be placed with (often the ‘homeless’ stay with me).
Once the animals are with me it really depends on their age, condition and species as to how long they will need to stay. A possum that is on 4 hour feeds will take about 6 months to get released back into the wild. As they grow, you give them more independence by placing them in larger and larger cages and having less and less interaction with them, until they are in an aviary and you are putting in the foliage for them to eat before they wake up.
An adult with an injury will be kept for medicating and then released back into its territory as soon as possible.
Some species, once they’ve reached a certain age, will go to a ‘crèche’ which will assist them in making new family groups before release (such as bats).
What’s the hardest part of the process?
There are a lot of times filled with sadness and heartbreak. Realising the amount of love and time you give to an animal does not always transfer into restoring health. Having to know when euthanasia is the kindest option.
What do you love the most about what you do?
Furry fluff balls!!
What’s the most common reason that native animals are sent to your care?
The main reason animals come in is due to human activity. Cars and domestic animals are the cause of most injuries. Keep pets inside at night! Well fed pets still hunt!.
Of the animals you receive, how many are injured, and how many are orphans needing to be raised to maturity?
The majority of animals that come into care will be babies or juveniles. This is purely because most injured adult animals have to be euthanised due to the severity of their injuries. In Queensland, we have a policy that animals that are not able to be released back to the wild have to be put down. Most native species are very territorial and have only a very short amount of time they can be away from their home turf before another animal will move in. A male brushtail possum or kookaburra (for example) has about 9 days until he needs to go back to his home, so only injuries that can heal in this time are viable for treatment. Even some species of reptiles are affected by this. Unfortunately, there is no option of just hoping they find another home or kick out the new inhabitants, as these animals are already compromised and will actually die without a secure home.
What’s your most memorable wildlife rescue experience?
I don’t really have just one that I can pinpoint. Mostly just feeling really lucky to spend so much time seeing how wild animals grow up and witnessing so much that most people will never see. It is sad knowing babies lose their mums but really amazing being the closest thing to a replacement.
What tips would you give to someone interested in contributing to wildlife rescue?
Get in touch with a local wildlife group and see where you can start. Even if you’re just interested, you can always attend courses and start learning. If you know a wildlife carer – spend some time with them! Then you can get an idea of what area of caring might fit with your lifestyle.