As the wheels started turning on Sydney Wildlife’s Mobile Clinic, so did those of many international jets, courier service vans, trade Utes, delivery vehicles and many more. As an outpouring of shared grief and support, they flew, drove and tweeted to Australia from everywhere you can imagine.
Rallying together, volunteer wildlife rescue groups in NSW had the devastating responsibility of coordinating a bushfire response to the worst fires in our country’s history.
Yet, just as life perseveres in the deepest smoulder, so too does the resilience of the carers, the vets, the vet nurses, the knitters and sewers, the drivers and the fire fighters. While Australian citizens fled their homes to safety and animals fled their burning habitats into unknown landscapes and unknown dangers, volunteer wildlife rescuers, with assistance from all over the world, did their best to meet them with the medical care they needed.
With skilled trade and carpentry volunteers, we were able to set up water stations, provide emergency triage centres and shelters and rebuild destroyed rehabilitation enclosures and fencing.
Veterinary surgeons skilled in treating wildlife volunteered to come and help animals with burns, infections, breaks and smoke inhalation. Many animals were also suffering from dehydration and hadn’t eaten in days. Many were orphaned having been separated from their mum in the confusion, panic and terror from the smoke and flames. Thanks to caring hands and the sharing of crucial knowledge and experience, there is a life in front of them now, with friends and freedom and someone to watch over them.
The volunteers on board of the Sydney Wildlife Mobile Care Unit on it's maiden trip.
Sydney Wildlife deployed their mobile wildlife mobile care unit the very moment it came off the production line in December 2019. Fires had been raging in multiple areas of the state
since early August and were now combining on the south coast and the Blue Mountains forming enormous destructive fire fronts with weather conditions of their own making.
Sydney Wildlife’s mobile clinic is the product of a three year project headed by Joan Reid and Lynleigh Greig, and supported by a number of members over years of fundraising. Staffed by experienced local volunteer wildlife vets, who kindly put their hands up to assist, at the end of the first week of January, they headed into the fire grounds on the south coast to assist their sister wildlife groups.
Simultaneously, Sydney Wildlife’s representative on the NSW Wildlife Council, Sonja Elwood, offered to attempt to coordinate an emergency response and accept the offers of international help from emergency animal disaster response groups who had been offering assistance in the previous weeks. This evolved over January and February into triage centres at Wandandian, Cooma, Cathcart, Bredbo and the Blue Mountains and re-builds on carers properties at Bendalong, Sassafras and Cooma.
Once of the triage centres in operation
Quietly behind the scenes, Sydney Wildlife members, Sarah Hylton and Margaret Woods, set about amassing and distributing enormous amounts of much-needed medical and wildlife materials such as bandages, pouches and medications - keeping the mobile clinic, triage centres and wildlife carers in fire zones across Australia stocked with vital supplies.
Working in tandem with Anne Jackson who developed the very clever initiative, Medi-Divert, last year where ex-hospital supplies that can no longer be used but are un-used are gathered and re-distributed to wildlife carers for animals in their care, rather than being thrown out into landfill.
Deb Kerr (Sydney Wildlife Rescue volunteer and RFS volunteer) with a Dingo she saved from the bush fires.
Other members such as Debb Kerr, her husband and fellow member Jeremy, along with Jamie Illistom and Sian Waythe, were also out there in the fire grounds fire-fighting or providing vital logistical services at Incident Management centres.
As bushfires eased in some areas and grounds were cleared by the RFS, Sydney Wildlife members, Sonja Elwood, Brendan and Lauren Scott with the assistance of Wildlife Rescue and recovery and the International Fund for Animal Welfare began rebuilds on wildlife carer’s properties that had lost their rehabilitation facilities. Sadly these activities had to be curtailed due to the advent of Covid-19 but as soon as possible these projects will continue.
Sydney Wildlife cannot express how grateful we are to our membership, vets, vet nurses, darters, international emergency response groups such as Helping You Help Animals New Zealand (HUH-NZ, Animal Emergency Disaster Response Germany and Canada, Aussie Mobile Vets, Vets Beyond Border, Vets for Compassion, Southern Cross Wildlife Care, Worldwide Veterinary Services, the vets from Macquarie, Wollongong and Charles Stuart Universities and so many individual vets both local and from overseas, our incredible donors, and craft guilds who stepped up in such difficult conditions to assist and made this possible. We apologise if we have missed anyone – we were blessed to find so many willing to help us help our beloved wildlife. Whilst the losses in terms of forest and wildlife are incalculable we have shown that an emergency response is possible and are hopeful in the future the government will recognise our efforts and assist our sector in future emergencies.