Australia’s unsung wildlife heroes
My first day in the job as Native Wildlife Campaigner for the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Australia, I arrived in Townsville, North Queensland for the eighth Australian Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference.
This biennial event allows wildlife carers, scientists and vets to gather from all over Australia to share information, expertise and to network. IFAW is proud to sponsor the event and as I was delighted to learn, also provides grants to some of the carers attending.
Fresh off the plane from London (well not that fresh!), I was made to feel instantly welcome and met so many people working in different fields, caring for a wide variety of wildlife, ranging from wombats and koalas to bandicoots and flying foxes.
My overwhelming feeling was one of complete admiration for all the amazing, dedicated work and expertise in the room.
The entire conference was organised by a handful of volunteers from North Queensland Wildlife Carers network who did a fantastic job of putting on a very professional, smoothly-run event that packed in a huge amount of talks from eminent experts on issues from caring for orphaned kangaroos to developing vaccines for koalas.
There were a range of fascinating workshops and I was lucky enough to visit a 'macropod' sanctuary (literally meaning 'big-footed' - kangaroos, wallabies and relatives) run by Jenny Hayden and her family, whose house has been converted into a sanctuary for these amazing animals.
Jenny cares for a variety of cases including looking after 'pinkies' (very young joeys), many of which had been rescued from their mothers’ pouches when they have been killed on the road. One had survived for up to three days in its dead mothers pouch before being found. At this young age it is vital for the carer to mimic the conditions of the pouch as much as possible.
The pinkie should be kept warm, humid, hydrated, fed and given access to some sunlight when their eyes open.
We visited her newly-completed 'Roo room' where six orphaned joeys were recovering. Her house backs onto Crown land and wild kangaroos and wallabies freely visit, feed and socialise with the sanctuary animals. It was a truly inspirational day and as a newcomer I was made to feel incredibly welcome – they even tolerated my over-excitement at seeing baby kangaroos for the first time!
Jenny and most of her fellow wildlife carers are unpaid volunteers and are juggling this work with full time jobs and families, often surviving on just a few hours sleep a night.
They are the most dedicated, knowledgeable, compassionate and inspirational group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure to spend time with.
The job that they do goes largely unrecognised - they provide a free, often 24 hour community service, yet receive little or no government funding or support.
And they do so much more than this, as Adriana Simmonds from Human Seeds observed. They are educators, advocates, environmentalists, monitors and researchers.
Although many are not scientists themselves, they provide an invaluable service to the scientific community as they have access to a special kind of knowledge that scientists don't - from their long- term close relationship scaring for, monitoring and often living with these animals.
They provide invaluable data to scientists, vets and government on the issues and state of native wildlife that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
The job of a wildlife carer is deeply rewarding but can also be totally exhausting and often emotionally traumatic.
They witness horrific injuries, death, disease and outright cruelty on a daily basis, a topic which often goes unrecognised, even among carers themselves.
They are the unsung heroes and saviours of Australia's wildlife and they need to be given the recognition and support that they truly deserve by both the public and government.
Congratulations and respect to North Queensland Wildlife Carers Network for putting on such an excellent conference. IFAW is proud to be a sponsor and looks forward to the next conference in Tasmania in 2014.
Note to readers – As mentioned, IFAW runs a small grants program allowing carers to apply for much needed project funds. For information on our grants program including how to apply, please email IFAW at email@example.com