Life in our beautiful Hawkesbury means that we cross paths with wildlife, sometimes in distressing circumstances. Of course, the Gosper's Mountain Fire has changed the face of how life alongside the bush functions in our everyday lives, with locals experiencing that face-to-face contact daily with animals sometimes in desperate need.
In the case of injured wildlife, how do we stay prepared for an emergency? Meet Lana Wedgwood, Lower Portland resident and rescuer for Sydney Wildlife.
At first glance, 29 year-old Lana Wedgwood’s home looks like the home of any other mum. A mound of clean laundry here, a port-a-cot there. However, a closer look will tell you a story about what goes on in her Lower Portland daily life; the mound of to-be-folded “clothes” is in fact a pile of flannelette pouches, and the port-a-cot contains six such pouches. Inside each pouch is a baby kangaroo.
Lana – who usually works in Aboriginal archaeology - introduces me to each member of the nursery, saying, “All the babies I’ve got at the moment haven’t even been here two weeks. Their mums have been killed on the road, or for whatever reason haven’t made it, and the little ones have to come to my place.”
A little bloke by the name of Roger takes a notably wide berth to bound around the strange journalist on his way to Lana, who reassures him with a gentle touch and affectionate murmur. They clearly have formed a strong attachment in the time and emotion she has spent in the provision of his care.
Roger - a rambunctious male Eastern Grey - stands no taller than two feet, but bounces about the living room on gangly legs in a haphazard zigzag, clearly feeling spritely after some time in Lana’s care.
Lana is a wildlife rescuer for Sydney Wildlife, a not-for-profit organisation formed in 1997 to care for animals in the Sydney metro region. Fortunately for us, she has recently moved to the Hawkesbury to join our small band of treasured local rescuers. While she clearly has the touch with kangaroos, she is qualified and experienced in the care of many species, including birds, bats, reptiles, turtles, wombats and possums. Where does this passion for healing our native critters come from?
Lana says, “I grew up with a love for animals and was always rescuing things off the street. My mum actually got me into [caring for wildlife]. I was a stay-at-home mum and needed something to do. So, Mum said, ‘How about Sydney Wildlife?’ Sydney Wildlife sent me a package and a good ten years later I’m still doing it! I wouldn’t give it up for the world. If I can help an animal, why shouldn’t I? Our native wildlife have been here longer than we have; we should be protecting them.”
If you’re thinking about becoming a wildlife rescuer, Lana says that Sydney Wildlife offers 2-day species-specific training and ongoing support. Sydney Wildlife works flexibly around the day-to-day commitments of rescuers.
Lana adds, “If you get a call from the office and you can’t do it, you just say no, and they’ll call the next person. If you can help, they’ll see in the system whether you’ve done the training or not, and you can go off and do the rescue. Stay in contact with your co-ordinator, and away you go!”
Lana says that some members of the public find it hard to understand why it’s important to protect native species – or some species in particular.
She says, “I can go out to a bat rescue, and be getting a bat out of some netting, and I’ve had some guy walk past me and abuse me, saying that I shouldn’t be helping it and that it should be drowned. But people need to understand the role that every bit of wildlife has in the ecosystem. They just think, ‘Oh, these dirty flying disgusting things,’ but flying foxes are our long-distance pollinators for eucalypt trees. Without our eucalypt trees, we don’t have our koalas. Every animal has their role.”
Wildlife rescuers and carers are often passionate educators, and Lana is no exception, saying that she has seen people change their attitudes about wildlife and the environment as a direct result of personal contact with animals.
“…people need to understand the role that every bit of wildlife has in the ecosystem.”
She says, “I know people who used to shoot kangaroos, until their partner brought home a joey and became a carer. They’ve never shot a roo since. Kangaroos might seem like they’re in plague proportions, but that’s because they don’t have the same land that they used to have. Eventually, we’re going to run out of release sites.”
So, how can members of the public help give wildlife the best possible chance at surviving an injury on the road?
Lana says that macropods – kangaroos and wallabies – suffer significantly from stress myopathy, which alone can kill them.
She explains, “Any animal, including humans, can get stress myopathy. It’s a build-up of lactic acid in the system. It’s like an overload of adrenaline, for us. Our adrenaline goes up, but we know in a little while it’ll go back down. With macropods, [the lactic acid] gets really high, and for a much longer time. It attacks their muscles. They go into shock and can just drop dead.”
Lana’s first advice for anyone encountering a trapped wallaby or kangaroo is not to chase them. This is not just because of stress myopathy but also because a mother kangaroo may drop her joey when pursued, making it very difficult for rescuers to find the joey, let alone reunite it with its mother.
Roger (pictured with Lana) was brought into Lana’s care because of children chasing his mother in a suburban area. Roger's mother escaped their pursuit, but not before dropping Roger behind a shed, where he was left alone and vulnerable before he was located by rescuers.
Suggestions for Your Wildlife First Aid Kit
Before you approach animals, this advice from WIRES is important:
Save WIRES to your phone: 1300 094 737.
WIRES advises locals NOT to approach
snakes, goannas, bats, macropods, or raptors.
WIRES advises locals to first ascertain that they can safely assist an injured or trapped animal before approaching, and ensure any threat to the animal is removed. This includes pets and people who might be causing the animal unnecessary stress.
Before calling WIRES or transporting the animal to a vet, ensure the animal is safe, comfortable and contained.
BUILD YOUR KIT:
A sturdy plastic tub with a secure lid and holes drilled into the top.
You may need to safely and securely transport a small animal to a vet.
Night time rescues are safer and easier when you can see.
Put one on the bottom of the tub to keep the animal comfortable and secure. Towels can also be used to safely pick up echidnas, or carefully wrap an animal to be put into the tub.
High-vis vest and a reflective road marker
Stay visible while assisting an animal.
Pliers, scissors, tough gloves
To cut free animals entangled in nets and fences.
Pillow slip and soft blankets
Some animals – like Roger - are happiest bundled up inside a dark, breatheable bag. Ensure the fabric is strong, because even tiny joey feet are strong! You may wish to sew the closed end of the “pouch” so that it’s a rounder shape. Do not cover the animal in a blanket; use blankets only to make a hard surface under the animal a little less slippery and ouchy.
Are you interested in becoming a wildlife carer?
There are different organisations who can train and support you in this goal. It can be very rewarding to care for wildlife, but you must do specialised training and follow instructions from the organisation who holds a license to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife in NSW.
Lana says, “If you can only rescue but can’t care for animals, or wish to just be a taxi service to transport animals to a carer, you can do that. You can work in the office for a couple of hours on the phones, sending out the rescues, become a member, or donate money."
Too little to be a grown-up wildlife carer? You can still help!
Sydney Wildlife can take donations via cash or the website (tax deductible).
Perhaps try doing special chores for your family and friends, to raise a little pocket money and make a donation of your own. You could also try asking all your neighbours if they can pass on spare towels, flannelette pillowslips, cages and aviaries. Contact the Editor for help to get your donations to Lana – we’re happy to help you get involved. Lana says, “Every little bit always helps!”
Are you a Hawkesbury kid who is passionate about wildlife?
We love to publish your drawings of our beautiful bushland and wildlife.
Just email them to the Editor on firstname.lastname@example.org or send them in the mail to Monotreme Media at:
P.O. Box 85
KURMOND NSW 2757