Dr Prishani helping the vets at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital perform kookaburra health check

28 Nov 2022


You can help increase the survival rates of vulnerable animals around Australia.

When an animal is injured or sick, having access to veterinary care can be the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, there is a gap between the wildlife that need this care and the number of vets that can provide it. WWF-Australia is working with Vets Beyond Borders, with the aim to reduce that gap by upskilling vets around Australia to help care for wildlife every day and in emergency situations. We caught up with Dr Prishani Vengetas, the Vet and Wildlife Recovery Project Coordinator at WWF-Australia, to learn more about the important work being delivered through this partnership, and how you can get involved to help make a difference for our wildlife.

What inspired you to become a wildlife vet?

I was inspired to become a wildlife vet by my two great loves, conservation and emergency medicine. Animals, whether they are wild or domesticated, are incredible beings. They are intelligent, free from judgement and capable of great kindness. I realised that they are perhaps the truest version of what humanity can be, and when I am with them, it calibrates me into the person I want to be. Emergency wildlife medicine is a strange blend of hope and heartbreak but being a part of bushfire search and rescue, setting up emergency triage centres and providing medical care to animals around the world are memories I will always treasure. As the world changes and pandemics and climate change become palpable in our lives, conservation and emergency medicine will collide more frequently and with more force. The role of veterinarians is more important than ever before, and I am grateful for the opportunity to guide the next generation of veterinarians, as I also continue to learn and grow.

Dr Prishani Vengetas helped perform a health check on a koala at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital
© WWF-Australia / Free Vreman

As an experienced vet yourself, why is it so important that we upskill vets to respond to wildlife?

Australia is home to some of the most unique wildlife on Earth; however, our environment is prone to bushfires, floods and droughts exacerbated by climate change. This year we’ve seen major flooding around the country, and I saw first-hand how devastating these weather events impact precious wildlife. I visited some of our partners in the Northern Rivers earlier this year to help care for and treat flood-affected wildlife, and the stories I heard were just devastating. There was a huge increase in wildlife cases of hyperthermia, infection, orphaned young, and on top of that, the flood waters were so high some of the wildlife hospitals were inaccessible.

The reality is, these severe weather events are only set to increase in frequency. It’s simply not possible to build wildlife hospitals everywhere they’re needed, and even if we could, we still need to find staff to operate them. That’s why it's important to upskill vets because when you train a vet or vet nurse, that knowledge will be passed on to other people in their team. As wildlife care isn’t a part of the regular veterinary curriculum taught at university, organisations like Vets Beyond Borders are so important to ensure vets are able to learn how to treat wildlife when they need to.

What is Vets Beyond Borders?

Vets Beyond Borders is an Australian based organisation that aims to improve animal health and welfare through projects and collaborations both within Australia and around the world, and also helps upskill vets to perform everyday essential care and emergency care for wildlife in need. Presently in Australia, there is a gap between the number of animals that need this kind of care and the number of vets with the training and resources to provide it. The aim is to close this gap by upskilling Australian vets, and WWF-Australia is proud to support them in this initiative.

How different is treating wildlife from treating domestic animals?

We want to ensure that when treating an animal, the impact is as minimal and least invasive as possible. Wildlife have different physiologies and different anatomies to domesticated animals. They have different diets, diseases and different needs. All these things are very important for the attending vet to understand. Vets Beyond Borders can provide ongoing training and education, so vets are more prepared for what comes their way. As an international organisation, they can also help with resourcing from overseas, so how vets are trained and the equipment they use in-the-field is of the highest quality and safe for the animal and the vets.

How often are we seeing wildlife needing emergency care?

With the recent disasters that have devastated Australia, we’ve seen a lot of animals requiring emergency care. However, it’s not just about emergency wildlife work. Every day, thousands of animals are admitted to general practice wildlife hospitals all over Australia.

Dr Prishani helping the vets at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital perform a health check on a kookaburra
Dr Prishani helping the vets at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital perform a health check on a kookaburra © WWF-Australia / Free Vreman

On average, WIRES receives 150,000 calls to rescue wildlife per year. That’s a non-emergency year, a normal year, and predominantly in one state. A significant number of these animals will require veterinary treatment. There is a huge daily need for this kind of care and, as we encroach further and further into wildlife habitat, we are only going to see this number increase with fishing line injuries, dog and cat attacks, poisonings and car accidents. When the big wildlife hospitals are overrun, or there aren’t any nearby, this program will help to bridge that gap between care. So it’s not just about emergency situations, it’s about making a difference every day.

How are WWF-Australia and Vets Beyond Borders going to close the gap between wildlife and care?

The hope is that through this program, wildlife around Australia will be no further than two hours from care in key regions. Together with Vets Beyond Borders, we are working to:

  • Increase veterinary volunteers who receive training in wildlife care.
  • Increase vets who are licensed to dart and capture wildlife.
  • Provide vets with the capacity to safely enter emergency situations such as firegrounds.
  • Provide the necessary resources, such as darting equipment and a mobile triage unit, to deliver emergency care where it’s needed.

These four steps are vital to improving wildlife health in Australia. We are a country that relies on volunteers to care for our native animals, and while this may not always be the case, it is true now. Resourcing and training sound like small things, but it means that every veterinarian or nurse in this cohort who might be able to help wildlife, will now be able to help. Veterinarians will then have the potential to better support our incredible wildlife rehabilitators and together improve the survival of our native wildlife.

How can people get involved to help Vets Beyond Borders upskill vets around Australia?

In an outpouring of compassion during the bushfires, a large number of veterinarians signed up to the Australian Veterinary Emergency Response Team (AVERT) run by Vets Beyond Borders. To ensure Vets Beyond Borders can train these amazing vets, help and support from the general public is hugely important.

If you want to help and can, please consider donating to support the upskilling of these vets. You’ll be helping to equip veterinary hospitals with tranquilliser rifles, support vets in completing their wildlife and emergency training, and ensure that wild animals are handled safely through appropriate capture management techniques and equipment.

With your support, these newly trained vets will be able to go to new locations all around Australia and be prepared for future disaster events, which is when they’re needed most. In areas where there are no hospitals, having a vet trained in wildlife care nearby will make a huge difference.

Floods and fires will happen again. But the more we prepare, the better equipped we’ll be to help as much wildlife as possible. Every dollar you donate today will help make a difference, so please give if you can.

You can help increase the survival rates of vulnerable animals around Australia.