Wildlife Care

Caring for injured wildlife

 

At nearly all times of the year vets and wildlife carers are inundated with injured wildlife. Although there is a steady flow of these patients, spring and summer really see a boom in numbers as animals breed.  Animals are presented with problems ranging from well-meaning people "rescuing" baby birds learning to fly to life threatening injuries following a collision with a motor vehicle.


The initial point of contact for these wild animals  is usually you - the general public-  the people who stop their cars to help an animal on the road, or rescue a bird from their cat or out of their swimming pool. The ultimate aim of caring for wild animals is their successful rehabilitation and subsequent release. The achievement of this aim starts with the rescuer, that is - you.

 

What do I do when I find an injured animal?

The first thing to try and assess is whether the animal is in fact injured. If it is a young animal (but not obviously an unweaned young chick or joey) and is not injured, it will probably have a better chance of survival being left where it is and letting the parents look after it. If it is somewhere where it is likely to be killed or injured, you will need to move it to a place of safety.

If you decide you need to remove it from where you have found it, the next thing is to try and identify it. If you can't identify it, at least think about the most likely way that it can hurt you! For example, a hawk or an eagle will do more damage with its talons than its beak, while a parrot is just the opposite. Waterbirds with long beaks can easily poke your eye out (and they will try to) while honeyeaters can cause incredible pain with their claws. Use a towel or something similar to carefully envelop the bird and place it in a suitable container.

Next, note exactly where you have found it. Many native animals are very territorial, and if not released back into their own territory they are often killed as intruders.

Lastly, seek professional advice for the animal. The local National Parks and Wildlife office may be able to put you in contact with wildlife carers or a vet who will help you. Local animal refuges will often take wildlife on a short term basis.

Some issues about injured wildlife

Why is the animal injured or sick? Many times we see wildlife that is sick or injured because of the effect man has had on their environment. These animals deserve our help as much as possible  but sometimes Nature is just taking them out of the gene pool. This has to be considered as a selection mechanism, and to treat and release these individuals may be to the detriment of the species as a whole.

Whose responsibility is this animal? Wildlife is the responsibility of the community as a whole. National Parks and Wildlife, although responsible for the environment and the animals, has no chartered responsibility for individual animals (although most ,if not all, rangers will do everything they can to assist). Vets and wildlife carers, although equipped with more skills and experience than the general public, have no more responsibility for wildlife than anyone else. They just take it on as a community service. So the answer really is, if you rescued it, it is your responsibility until you can find someone willing to take it on.

Should this animal be released? One of the issues surrounding wildlife care is "should a particular animal be released?"  Sometimes the answer is NO. For example, a lorikeet with Beak and Feather Disease may appear to have recovered, but continues to act as a source of infection. Such a bird, released back into the wild, will do more harm than good. So sometimes the hard decision has to be made to euthanase a bird rather than release it. Please accept this decision; it is not made lightly.

I want to keep this bird as a pet. Can I? No. You will need to check with your local National Parks and Wildlife office to obtain a permit to care for the bird until it is fit for release. But it is highly unlikely that you would be able to keep it permanently. It is unfair, and probably cruel, to confine a bird that has been free and wild. The bird's best interests have to be served, not yours! Sometimes a decision is made to keep a bird in captivity e.g. baby birds that have imprinted on people, but such decisions are made on a case by case basis, and you should never assume that you can keep a wild bird as a pet.

Caring for a wild animal at home

Occasionally you will find a wild animal that needs minimal treatment and can be cared for at home. Wildlife carers are the best people to do this, but even they had to get experience somewhere! There are a few simple rules to follow:

  • Identify the animal and research its normal habits and diet. I have seen people offer hawks bread, or lorikeets seed, or Frogmouths dog biscuits. You need to feed the bird as close to a natural diet as possible
  • Make sure the animal is eating and drinking. More than one wild animal has starved to death in captivity because it didn't recognise what was been offered as food.
  • Don't try to make a pet of the animal. Minimise the time you spend with it, don't allow it to imprint on people
  • Reduce stress on the animal eg don't put it somewhere the cat can sit and watch it, or put it in a cage next to a predator. Keep it warm and quiet
  • Make sure the animal is getting any treatment that may have been prescribed by a vet. Keep the vet informed of the patient's progress.
  • Talk to experienced carers about releasing the animal. An animal that has been in a cage for several weeks will lose its natural fitness, and may die quickly once released. It can take a few weeks to build up a animal's fitness prior to release.

Wildlife and Indooroopilly Vet Clinic

At Indooroopilly Vet Clinic, we donate yearly to wildlife carers and volunteers to help support them with all of the great community work they do.

  • Phone the clinic first to see if we are open before bringing the wildlife down to us. Unfortunately we are unable to come to the clinic after-hours for wildlife cases. If we are closed please ring or visit your nearest wildlife sancturary or RSPCA for help.
  • We are unable to pick any wildlife up from a location. If you could ensure that the wildlife is placed in a secure box or cage before bringing it to us, this will ensure the safety of the wildlife as well as to humans.
  • Due to the expense of surgery and treatments, we are unable to treat all wildlife cases. We will treat the case if we can, then  send to a carer.
  • Because most days in our vet clinic are busy, we may not have time to phone you back with an update on a case. If you would like to phone us later in the day to find out the outcome of the case you may do so.
  • Remember the responsibility of caring for wildlife is a community issue, not just a veterinary responsibility. We will happily accept a small gold coin donation from good samaritans like you which we pass onto the voluntary carers, who are usually kind members of community.

Conclusion

Caring for injured or orphaned wild animals can be fun and rewarding. There is a lot to be learnt, and we can all feel that we are making a contribution to our environment. But it is not all hugs and kisses there are procedures to follow, things to be done, and sometimes hard decisions to be taken. But at the end of the day watching a wild animal be released back into its environment and take its place can make it all worthwhile.

And we would like to take this opportunity to praise another group of unpaid, unsung volunteers in our society - the wildlife carers. As vets, we could not do our job of caring for our native animals without these wonderful people. Thank you from all of us!