27 May 2022
ON THE ROAD WITH SYDNEY’S WILDLIFE HOSPITAL ON WHEELS
Sydney Wildlife Rescue’s mobile care unit hit the road for the first time on 11 January 2020.
The ‘launch’ was not the celebration that co-founders Joan Reid and Lynleigh Greig had planned for the new wildlife hospital on wheels. Bushfires were raging across the NSW South Coast, so the volunteer veterinary team had to forgo a fancy ribbon cutting and head straight to the firegrounds. Once there, the mobile care unit acted as a vital triage centre for injured wildlife.
This year the unit was called into action again, with the NSW floods leaving many native animals stranded and wildlife carers in desperate need of help.
Dr Prishani Vengetas, a veterinarian and WWF-Australia's Wildlife Recovery Project Coordinator, recently visited the mobile care unit to help out for a day and see how the team is managing now that floodwaters have subsided.
We also spoke with Lynleigh Greig about responding to fires and floods and how funding from WWF-Australia’s flood appeal will help the mobile care unit continue to operate.
How did the idea for the mobile care unit become a reality?
About five years ago, we were talking about building a dedicated wildlife hospital, but we realised that if it was a bricks and mortar building, it would just be stuck in one place forever. So we thought if we put the hospital on wheels, we could take it anywhere. It can be deployed to areas when there are natural disasters or taken out for community education days.
It took us about three years to raise the funds to buy the vehicle. We had a lot of fundraising events - big and small - and eventually, we got the money. We bought a standard motorhome that came with a bed, a fridge, a washing machine and lots of things we didn’t need. So we tore everything out and installed the examination table. We took the toilet out and put in an x-ray area. The washing machine was replaced by a blood scan machine. We revamped everything.
What role did Sydney Wildlife Rescue play in responding to the bushfires?
We literally cut the ribbon on the mobile care unit the morning we were deployed to the firegrounds. The van was ready about five days earlier and we quickly filled it up with medications and flamazine and all the stuff that we’d need. Then we just stuck a ribbon across the driveway, cut it and off we went straight to the firegrounds on the NSW South Coast.
We set up the van as a triage centre in Wandandian initially. Then we went out in little search and rescue teams looking for injured critters. We generally had a runner in each team, so if we found an animal we could run it back to the van for treatment.
Later on, we set the van up as a clinic, so wildlife carers had a place to bring their animals as they went through the rehab process.
Were you called to rescue wildlife during the recent floods?
The floods were very different from the fires. We couldn't actually take a vehicle like ours into the flood grounds.
We’ve found that with floods many of the problems come after the waters recede. There's a greater risk of waterborne diseases. Food sources get swept away in the torrents of water, so starvation suddenly becomes a risk. And many animals lose their homes. Ground-dwelling creatures like bandicoots, for example, live in little nests on the ground and these get washed away.
So we started treating a lot more animals after the floodwaters cleared because that’s when you can see who’s in trouble.
What animals needed help in the wake of the floods?
We treated a lot of birds that were severely waterlogged. Normally birds can cope with a little bit of water retention in their feathers, but after the floods many were stranded on the ground and couldn’t fly. They often get respiratory issues as well when they’re stuck on the ground for too long.
We also saw a lot of turtles. When water sources overflow, turtles will often leave the water and wander across roads to get to higher ground. So unfortunately there were turtles being struck by cars or washed into stormwater drains.
We also had many animals needing treatment for waterborne diseases and others that were just left homeless.
How will funding from WWF supporters help the mobile care unit?
The support from WWF has been fantastic. The funding will go towards our general running expenses, which allow us to treat everything from fire and flood victims to animals that have been attacked by cats or feral animals.
It will also help us to purchase new diagnostic equipment for the van, which will be vital for assessing animals with waterborne diseases and other strange symptoms following events like floods.
Wildlife Crisis Appeal
If you'd like to help train more vets in emergency response for injured wildlife, please donate to WWF-Australia.
With disasters like fires and floods on the rise, there’s an urgent need to better prepare veterinary professionals for the treatment and care of wildlife. Your tax-deductible donation will help to protect our precious animals and give them the best chance of survival.