Cyclone Yasi Final Update: Busy Days Saving Injured Animals
A very busy day today. Our first patient was ready for us at 9am an we didn’t finish up until close to 8pm. Southside Veterinary Surgery in Cairns kindly provided us with one of their rooms and the use of their facilities in order that we could treat the wildlife victims of Cyclone Yasi.
We saw a variety of creatures including a number of threatened Spectacled Flying foxes. As canopy dwelling animals, these large fruit bats with a furry face and big eyes, were hit hard by the cyclone. Many animals were picked up with injuries or left orphaned as their parents became disorientated in the storm. The ones we saw had problems ranging from fractured wings and fingers, to malnutrition and injury to the back.
We also treated a Brushtail Possum, a Torres Strait Island Pigeon with a head injury and probably with pneumonia, a Curlew, a large bird with long thin legs, with a fractured wing, a Kingfisher (named Tenzin) with a fractured wing which came from the Cardwell area which was one of the worst hit by the cyclone.
A little Agile Wallaby named Molly came in with one of the wildlife carers who had noticed she was not looking unwell for the last two days and had difficulty breathing. Dr Ralph examined her but shortly afterwards she died. The wildlife carer was naturally quite upset and was concerned that perhaps Molly had some illness that may perhaps affect the other wallabies she has in care so she asked Dr Ralph to perform an autopsy. We did this at the very end of the day when everyone had left other than one of the vets and a vet nurse who were working on a couple of dogs. Turns out Molly’s lungs were riddled with pneumonia.
Several of the bats required x-rays and anaesthesia which we could fortunately do in this veterinary surgeon – a luxury for us who are used to dealing with field conditions were there is no equipment, often not even a light! The microbat we saw with a bad fracture was so tiny that we had to make a special mask for him for the anaesthesia. Dr Ralph delicately and carefully put a tiny pin in his bones to hold them together. This will later need to be removed. Some of the staff at the clinic were particularly interested as they had never seen such an operation being performed on such a tiny animal, let alone a bat which they never treat in their clinic.
We had a call from a member of the public about a wallaby on the side of the road. This part of Cairns actually received quite a bit of damage from the cyclone. Heather, one of the wildlife carers who does many of the rescues, asked if I could help her since this was an adult wallaby. As we were driving over, I noticed many Flying Foxes leaving their camp and in the air. I commented to Heather that this was unusually early in the day. She said that this has been happened since the cyclone as much of the fruit has been lost from the trees so the bats are leaving earlier and flying further in their search for food.
The area where the wallaby has a high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living there and a family of them met us to show us where the wallaby was. The kids were very excited to see the wallaby, and even more excited to see Heather and myself try to catch him. We had to be very careful as it was clear the wallaby was suffering from trauma to the head and was already stressed from his predicament (and from people trying to catch him). Macropods, such as wallabies, are very prone to capture myopathy which means that it is very important not to chase them as this alone can cause them to die.
Fortunately it didn’t take us very long to catch him and carry him back to the car where he rode on my lap covered in a blanket (and, I was to notice afterwards, peed on my trousers!). Back at the clinic, Dr Ralph gave him a brief initial examination and some pain relief. It appears he has a fractured jaw and other head injures. We decided that Heather, one of the wildlife carers, would have to keep him overnight and bring him back in the morning. Heather had been in and out of the clinic all day. At about 5.30pm she went to pick up her 10 year old daughter, Sophie, from swimming. Sophie insisted on coming to the clinic to watch us at work whilst Jerry, our photographer, helped take the adult male wallaby back to Heather’s place for the night for some rest and we will examine him first thing in the morning. Heather was a bit concerned Sophie might get in the way but I could see how much she really wanted to stay so I said I would watch her and Dr Ralph was more than happy to have her watch and ask questions. She proudly declared that she wants to become a vet when she grows up. Heather lent over and told me that for Christmas, she had begged her mum for the rabies vaccination so she could handle Flying Foxes and other bats!!
And just before we were about to do the autopsy, a member of the public brought in a young wallaby. Again, this one has an injury, a fractured pelvis, and again, Dr Ralph gave some pain relief and he went home with one of the wildlife carers until tomorrow.
After 10 straight hours without a break seeing patients, Dr Ralph was pretty exhausted but happy we could help!
Came back to the hotel room and rang quite a few people to juggle around the appointment for tomorrow. Seem to not be able to get onto internet tonight. Jerry having the same problem so we will email tomorrow.
Bye for now,
The day began before we even left our hotel rooms. A couple of the animals we saw yesterday were not doing particularly well and so Dr Ralph gave instructions to the carer on what to do until we could see the animal. Then I had to make several calls to rearrange appointments.
Our first stop rather than the vet clinic, was at Heather Owens house, one of the wildlife carers from Far North Queensland Wildlife Rescue who lives not far from the clinic. But rather than subject the animals to more stress by having them transported to the clinic, we went to the animals.
Heather had quite a number of young Metallic Starlings who had been blown out of trees by the cyclone. A couple of them were not looking well so we examined them. One had to be taken with us to the surgery as it needed to be anaesthetized to have several procedures done. She also had a Kookaburra from the cyclone. Heather was not sure why he could not fly and upon examination by Dr Ralph, it turned out to be due to an injury he incurred from the storms. Fortunately for the Kookaburra, he was healing quite well and with some tender loving care, should fully recover.
The patient we were most concerned about at Heather’s was the male adult Agile Wallaby we picked up yesterday with the head trauma. Heather kept him in a quiet and dark place in her house, much to the surprise of her husband when he got home! Dr Ralph inspected him and we were glad to see in the last 24 hours, he had improved considerably. Dr Ralph gave him some more medication to reduce the swelling on his brain and for pain relief. He will need to be kept in a dark quiet place for a bit longer and need daily injections for a little while longer.
At the clinic we saw a number of birds including Torres Strait Pigeons, a colourful Wompoo Pigeon – rarely seen as it dwells in the rainforest canopy, an very thin Dusky Tern, a striking seabird picked up after being blown in from the reef by the cyclone, and a Spurwing Plover with a leg fracture.
Spurwing Plovers have long delicate legs and spend a lot of their time walking about on the ground. This little guy was clearly in pain and need of help. Fortunately, Dr Ralph was able to put a pin in the leg of the Spurwing Plover. Again, we saw a number of bats that dynamic bat duo, wildlife carers Lisa and Jess, brought in, one of which had a pin put in her wing. A lot of her wing was damaged and she will need to be in permanent care, but she is a lovely girl and her carer, Jess, is very fond of her.
The Nightjar that came in late yesterday had an x-ray and then his wing strapped. A little dove with a badly infected eye had her eye cleaned and medicated. She also will have to come in for daily injections for about 5 days.
The friend of the little Molly the wallaby that Helen, a carer, brought in yesterday came in today for a check up. We were concerned, particularly after the autopsy last night, that this one may also have the same illness. And indeed, this one, a young Wallaroo, also was showing early signs of something wrong. Dr Ralph gave him some medication and instructions on what to do and what tests need to be done. We took a stool sample which Dr Ralph checked under the microscope.
Unfortunately the little wallaby that came in very late yesterday died this morning. An autopsy revealed that she had very bad internal injuries coupled with myopathy. Macropods are extremely susceptible to this dangerous and deadly condition. Dr Ralph also carried out an autopsy on a starling at the request of one of the carers. Following the cyclone, a number of these birds from the one nest had come into her care. But most of the had died and no-one could work out why. Dr Ralph took a tissue culture and found that there it was a fungus with spores growing inside their brains.
Apart from actually saving the animals, one of the best things has been to see the staff at the vet clinic take an interest in what we have been doing. To watch them watch Dr Ralph and ask him questions has been very heartening. They even said that they hope to see us up there working again.
It’s now 10.30pm and I have just got off the phone from a carer. There was a meeting tonight held at Far North Qld Wildlife Rescue and apparently we were highly praised for the work we have been doing. Apparently they are all surprised as they were expecting us to say that the animals are too compromised and need to be euthanaised. This is why many had not come forward earlier. Something we are used to as seems to happen all over Australia. Now the word is out and we have had many requests to come and live in Cairns! (I think they are referring more to Dr Ralph than me!)
Had a couple of animals in Cairns still to take care of including the male Wallaby, Zopa, we rescued the other day. He's looking better everyday.
The carers down south preferred us to come to them as easier (not having to transport the animal etc) and as tomorrow is the first day that the Tully vet clinic has power, they were expecting it to be busy for the next few days so we didn't want to be in the way.
Drove down south near Innisfail to one carer, a local policewoman who also is a wildife carer and specializes in bats. Looked at a couple of her bats, one of which needed some surgery which we planned to do the next day.
Went to vet clinic in Tully where we arranged to use the clinic for part of tomorrow.
Next to Mission Beach to meet a few carers. Howard checked and treated several birds such as Torres Strait Pigeon and Double-eyed Fig Parrot. Met up with the Coorindator for Wildcare Mission Beach as she wanted to meet us and talk about a few things. She had evacuated during the cyclone and came back to find their mangosteen farm totally wrecked.
The destruction of habitat is far more visible now then from when we were here straight after the cyclone. You can really see the dead vegetation now and how there literally is nothing left in places.
By then it was very late and we drove further south outside Cardwell to one well known carer and wildlife artist there, Daryl Dickson, who amongst many species, looks after the very rare Mahogany Gliders.
Spent the night there on a camp stretcher without power with a generator drowning out our voices for part of the night trying to kept the mosquitoes off and Green-lipped Tree Frogs hopping through the house quite loudly! (I was more worried about the snakes coming through).
Morning at this carers place. Looked at her Mahogany Gliders. She also has a Tawny Frogmouth which Howard checked. Discussed strategies etc re: feeding stations. She works closely with the Dept of Envt up here with the Mahogany Gliders (they actually provided the generator for her to use because of the gliders). Her property is absolutely trashed. Worse we have seen. This could actually cause the extinction of this species (the Mahogany Glider). A real concern. Her and husband actually fled the cyclone and her aviaries were damaged.
Now no habitat is left, no food, no shelter and she is very worried about the gliders and possums and birds etc so is encouraging the community to assist by establishing feeding stations. She is getting species in that she has never ever seen before. Nowhere else for them to go for food and fortunately for them, they have found their way to her place to get some food.
Then went to vet clinic where bat carer came down with her bats who required surgery and medication. Graham the vet you met, Dick, came in and watched for a bit. He doesn't treat bats at all so the nearest vet who will treat bats is almost 2 hours drive away. Howard provided everything (had it left from the floods) so would not have to use anything from Graham the Tully vet, other than the anesthetic machine and room.
Graham said he has had a fair bit of wildlife come through, with most suffering from exhaustion and starvation. The lack of food availability out there is a real worry. The trees are stripped bare with hardly any leaves and no fruit or seed.
On our way back up to Cairns, got a call about a wallaby who was currently with a carer at a vets up there. They wanted Howard's advice on amputating a toe. We were going to come up and check when another call came through to go back down to the vet at Tully's as a young joey had come in and urgently needed to be picked up etc. We were told it was a pinkie' male Pademelon. Turns out it was a 900g female Agile Wallaby. Anyway, Howard gave her fluids and we took her back with us. (Her name now is Lhamo' - Tibetan for goddess').
Stopped in on Heather the carer as she had picked up a few more birds that needed our attention including a Rainbow Lorikeet and some species of Honeyeater. Tried to feed the young wallaby, Lhamo, we just got but she wasn't taking the bottle yet.
Checked Zopa the wallaby (living in a large in built cupboard at Heathers. Good quiet and dark place for him but the first night her husband walked in, not knowing the wallaby was in there, and got quite a surprise!!). It was decided that whilst Howard was around, we would take him up to Jenny Smith's as he would need to get heavily sedated and we could keep an eye on him during the journey.
So up to Jenny's with a young joey on Howard's lap and a sedated adult on the back seat. Needless to say I had to be careful not to stop suddenly! Jenny had a couple of wallabies needing attention as well. So treated those, including splinting the entire tail of one of them (quite a sight with his bright yellow vet wrap!). Dark by the time we had finished so back down the mountain to coast to our hotel.
Everyone has been very happy to have us here and thank IFAW etc. Some were very surprised to learn that their animals could be treated and not euthanaised as that is what they are used to. Very sad.
Tomorrow is the Cairns training.
Cairns training today. Was well attended with a reasonably full room including wildlife carers, some vets & vet nurses, and a doctor. Unfortunately, Far Nth Qld Wildlife Rescue also had a bird training day that day (run by Fred) otherwise would have been more people. Don't know why they didn't postpone the bird workshop but+.
I gave an intro on who we are, who IFAW is and what it does, why we are here etc. Then Howard went through a number of images to explain things to do with initial assessment (life threatening injuries, fractures, eye injuries etc etc). People seemed to get a lot out of it and appreciated us being here.
The hall was double booked with the Gardening Club wanting to get in when we were already there! So we had to vacate pretty swiftly at the end of the powerpoint presentation. Some people had brought in some birds for Howard to look at so we tried to do most of those in the disabled toilet up the front of the hall - the quietest place (hall by them was full of senior citizens with plants, cups of tea and coffee, and cakes and slices nattering away quite loudly!). One of the birds required a more complicated procedure and we managed to secure the use of a room at the veterinary clinic across from the hall as one of the carers works there part time. It was for the SpurWing Plover with the pin in his leg. The pin was causing some discomfort where it was sticking out. Anyway, the local vet was interested in watching. Howard cut the pin end off, cleaned it up, gave some medication etc. I talked to the vet as she has a friend, another vet, who is very interested in wildlife in another part of the country so I gave her a few contacts.
So all in all a successful day.
For more information on IFAW efforts to help animals in crisis around the world, visit http://www.ifaw.org