Local heroes: our first responders for wildlife - The Community Leader and Real Estate New and Views

Wildlife Rescue Queensland volunteer Nicole Bennett. Photo: Supplied.

Twenty-two kookaburras, 30 lorikeets, 10 possums, 20 tawny frogmouths, 23 fig birds, two ibises and an uncounted collection of magpies and peewees could be a zookeeper’s nightmare or a twitcher’s dream, but that’s the tally of wildlife cared for and released by Wildlife Rescue Queensland volunteer Nicole Bennett in the current spring/summer season.

Nicole’s 29-year career as a professional nurse stands her in good stead for caring for injured animals (“I’m an old hand at things like wound care and treating dermatitis”) and she counts herself lucky to have the time to care for human patients and injured animals.

“My nursing work now is mainly administration so I can work from home,” she says. “My days are really busy but efficient time management means that I can also look after the furred and feathered patients.”

Nicole’s love of the animals is obvious and she cares for them as if they were her own.

“Some of them really find a place in your heart,” she says. “I had one little kookaburra that the RSPCA passed on to me and I cared for him from the bundle of fluff stage right up until he was ready to fly away and be independent. He was special.”

Nicole says that all the animal welfare groups in the region have a good working relationship, which helps the increasing demands being made on wildlife carers.

“We need more volunteers; some people feel that they’re not up to it but there are several ways of volunteering and people are trained in the various tasks. Most folk can fit in somewhere.”

Typically, a rescue volunteer who finds an injured animal or bird will call the 24/7 WRQld Hotline for advice on what to do. If necessary, the next step is to take the animal to the RSPCA or a vet for assessment or treatment. From there, the “patient” may either go into fostering with a wildlife carer – who may be the rescuer – or be taken to a Bribie Island pick-up point to be collected by an animal ambulance service that does three runs a day to Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast.

“There are induction days for new volunteers that offer training in caring and feeding for birds, macropods (wallabies and kangaroos), possums, koalas and bats – and bat carers need to have a course of three vaccinations,” says Nicole. “There are also specialist roles within the ranks of volunteers, such as drivers for the wildlife ambulance and professional tree climbers for high-tree rescues.”

Training is essential for volunteers, as are cages, basic equipment and sufficient appropriate space if they intend to become carers. Carers must have a current wildlife rehabilitator’s permit. The ultimate aim
of wildlife rescue is to rehabilitate the animal to a state of health where it can resume its independent life as nature intended.

“Their general condition, weight and behaviour are the best indicators. You learn to gauge when an animal’s ready to go and that’s when you start reducing contact with them,” Nicole says. “I prefer a ‘soft release’, where the animal can leave but can come back to the protection of its enclosure until it establishes its territory in the wild.”

Nicole says that because many animals – such as possums, kookaburras and frogmouths – are strongly territorial, it’s preferable to release them back into the area where they were found.

“You learn interesting things about animals just by taking the time to observe them,” she says. “An injured adult male kookaburra in an outside cage will be harassed as an interloper by resident kookaburras. If the patient is a juvenile bird the resident birds will sometimes try to feed it through the cage wire. They just want to keep it alive and healthy.”

Which is pretty well what Nicole and other wildlife volunteers are all about. It’s not too hard to join them.

New volunteers are always welcome. To find out more or put your hand up to join the team call 3824 8611 or go to https://www.redland.qld.gov.au/info/20253/native_wildlife_trees_and_plants/620/wildlife_rescue_service

The Hotline number for help with injured animals is 0478 901 801 or 3833 4031.

Nicole warns against feeding wild birds, such as magpies, with raw meat. “Adult birds may be able to tolerate it but lacking insects, worms and the like, it’s a totally inadequate diet for their youngsters and can even affect chicks in the egg. Metabolic bone disease can cause twisted beaks and fractured bones.”

Also, make sure that any young birds that you rescue really are in trouble. “If they’re sitting on the ground they may just be learning how to fly; always check if there are adult birds hovering around, they may be mum and dad.”

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