Caring for the thousands of wildlife injured during Victoria’s ongoing bushfires requires a team effort.
Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) is responding to sick and injured wildlife on the ground by providing wildlife assessment teams that respond to animals in need and wildlife triage units that assess individual animals.
Each wildlife triage unit is staffed by a site manager, a vet and a vet nurse who assess wildlife as they arrive.
DELWP Forest and Wildlife officer Melanie Cheers has been working in Mallacoota since the start of 2020.
“Thousands of animals are being assessed in the field by vets and trained DELWP staff and 102 animals have so far been through our unit,” Ms Cheers said.
“Most of these are koalas, but there have also been eastern grey kangaroos, swamp wallabies, red necked wallaby joeys and feathertail gliders.
“Air Force has been a great help to DELWP since the bushfires began by getting staff and equipment into isolated regions and flying out animals that need critical care.”
Zoos Victoria’s resident vet at Healesville Dr Chloe Stevenson is one of the vets in Mallacoota.
“When animals are brought to the triage unit they are assessed by a vet who will decide the next best course of action,” Dr Stevenson said.
“If the animal is healthy, we release it straight away and as close as possible to its point of capture.
“If it needs minor medical care such as fluid via a drip, then it remains at the triage unit. If its injuries are more serious then we arrange for the Air Force to fly it to a zoo near Melbourne for ongoing treatment. If it just needs some rest or hand feeding, then we hand it over to volunteer foster carers in the local community, to whom we are very grateful for their ongoing support.”
Flying Officer Emma Rouland was deployed to Mallacoota with the RAAF’s 2nd Expeditionary Health Squadron in a primary health care team to support local government and emergency services personnel during bushfire isolation.
As a nurse, Flying Officer Rouland normally helps people but the local wildlife triage unit asked her team for help when they were unable to restock their vet supplies due to road closures and heavy smoke that temporarily prevented air access.
“Their glucometer had run out of test strips and it is a vital piece of equipment that tests blood sugar levels in people and animals,” Flying Officer Rouland said.
“The vets rely on glucometers to check the blood sugar levels of koalas pre and post-surgery, so we were happy to lend them one of ours as well as restock their other medical supplies.”
Misty Stebbing is a volunteer who supports wildlife vets by delivering medical supplies to RAAF Base East Sale where they are flown in on a C-27J Spartan aircraft into isolated locations such as Mallacoota.
“Vets order the supplies they need and with help from the Air Force, we get it to them,” Ms Stebbing said.
“About $10000 of medical supplies have so far been delivered by air to remote vets.”