volunteer australian wildlife shelter

IamA Volunteer Australian Wildlife shelter. I’ve rehabilitated and raised penguins, koalas, kangaroos, wallabys, possums, echidnas, albatross, sugar gliders and many more AMA!

Hey Reddit!

I’m a volunteer wildlife carer in Australia and run a licensed shelter that takes in all sorts of animals. I’m here with my son (pictured in proof photo), who said it would be a good idea for me to do this AMA, and that reddit would probably rather enjoy some of the quirky stories and interesting information we’ve both got.

As well as rehabilitating injured animals and raising orphaned ones we are also both wildlife rescuers and often get called out to relocate animals from populated areas back to the wild, or respond to animals that have been attacked by dogs, hit by cars, or found in a dire situation.

The shelter that I run is set up predominately to cater for orphaned and injured koalas and seabirds. For the koalas we have 4 outdoor enclosures with pseudo trees and fresh leaf. The babies start off being bottle fed special formula. They start off in the living room when tiny (what a lot of the pictures in the album show) in warm pouches, climbing small trees covered in sheep skin. They are then gradually taken outside and introduced to proper trees. Eventually they are left outside in the enclosure full time and gradually dehumanized. When they reach around 4.0kg’s they are released at a suitable location.

Because we were getting a lot of sea birds, particularly penguins, we built a sea bird enclosure with a 6 meter pool. Foxes are a problem here so we had to go to extreme measures to keep them out.

Seabirds in care are generally fed pilchards (small fish that stink) – kilos of the stuff. Giant Petrels are the exception, they eat chickens (not live ones). When they are really hungry they eat two a day.

Proof: Imgur Imgur

This album contains a lot of images of the various animals over the years, sorry about the quality of some of them! And the date stamp is wrong on most. The images are also property of me, and if you want to use them please ask. They album doesn’t show every animal that’s come through, but gives you a good idea.


Okay guys! Start asking! We’ll be around for about 2 hours, and then come back later and reply to any that we missed!

What have you found to be the most common injuries amongst native animals, or reasons that they end up in your care?

The most common injuries we come across are traffic related injuries and dog attacks. Sadly a lot of these are fatal, particularly dog attacks. A lot of the time, orphans are found in the pouches of dead mothers that have been hit by cars.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories you could tell us about the animals you have cared for?

One of the funniest stories could probably be the Rockhopper penguin, and the reason he got the name ‘Wark’. Being a Rockhopper he was very adept at getting out of the enclosure we’d slapped together for him. I was out in the garden one day hanging washing on the line, when I hear a very loud and very close ‘WAAAAARRRRRKK’ behind me. After recovering from the shock I turn around and find the penguin standing right behind me with his head back, mouth open, expecting to be fed fish. There’s a lot more stories, but that’s probably the best one I can think of at the moment!

Just remembered another one, during summer we erect shade clothes over the Koalas enclosure. One day we were out feeding them their milk, and we couldn’t find one, after looking around for a while we looked up and see a spot where the shade clothe was sagging down, and the silhouette of a koala was shining outlined. After that first one got up there the others wanted to have a crack too, and we’d often find them bouncing around on the shade clothe.

What release methods do you prefer? Hard, or soft release? Do you have trouble finding locations for soft release sites?

Soft release is really the only way to go in my opinion and from research done. Yes very, very hard to find soft release spots. Especially for possums. I can well imagine the possum ambush:).

How does one get into that type of work?

It depends on the country you live in, but for Australia you need to get another wildlife shelter to take you on as a foster carer, and then through them, gain experience. You also have to be prepared to do endless hours of volunteer work rescuing and caring for the animals. Once you have had your appropriate experience you can apply for a license to have your own shelter, this is done through the State Government. And they have a set of rules and regulations you are required to abide by.

What’s your favourite animal to work with?

I’m a big fan of Giant Petrels, mainly because we don’t get many of them in, and they’re such a big bird. Not to mention how interesting they are to feed, often consuming 1-2 whole chickens a day. They are very much the vultures of the sea. And they’re not vicious to humans.

Where is a good place to start in Victoria? Do they generally need volunteers or is it tough to get in?

Not really sure where a ‘good’ place in Victoria is to start. It can be tough to get in. Try with a large shelter that always needs helpers. A lot of people get involved down here after they have done a rescue training course with Wildlife Victoria or Badger. Rescue is good to start with because you can be available as much or as little as you like and you learn a lot about the species that are common in that area. Good luck.

Lets pretend I came in tomorrow to volunteer. What would I be expected to do?

Depending on what animals we had in care. Some of the typical chores would be raking the yards of the koalas and seabirds (to pickup loose leaves, koala poop, and seabird poop). Collecting leaf, which involves going and cutting down small branches from appropriate trees in the area and switching out the old branches in the koala enclosure. Filling up the waters that keep the leaf fresh. Feeding the various animals (depending on how old the koalas are, this could be bottle feeding with milk). Washing towels and blankets that are used to protect the carpet in the living room. Maybe helping out in a rescue if there is one.

So, a bit of this and a bit of that!

Why are Common Wombats considered endangered, especially since they’re referred to as ‘common’, and have a ‘least concern’ status on the conservation scale? And how come Wombats are so friendly to people in zoos, but make bad pets (or illegal to have as pets)?

The ‘Common’ part of the name is just that, a name, and doesn’t reflect their population numbers. From what I can understand, there are pockets of well populated areas, and other areas where they are essentially extinct. I’m not sure if that answers your question as well as you’d like, but that’s all that I could think of that could contribute to such a contradiction.

As for them making bad pets, they are extremely destructive, they’re rather headstrong, and instead of going around things, they have a tendency to go through them. You also need a special permit to keep any Australian Wildlife as pets. They also need secure enclosures, they’ll dig out of anywhere they are put.

How do you calm scared animals? I imagine most would be hostile to humans.

It depends on the animal and what has happened to them. The normal procedure is (for most animals) to cut off visuals once you have them contained. For example, with koalas, once they are in a basket and the top has been put on we cover the basket with a blanket, making the inside dark to them. That normally works pretty well. Sometimes they’re extremely stressed or in pain though, in that case it just takes time and a quiet area. In the case of macropods (Kangaroos and wallabies) they need to be sedated in order to calm down.

What is the silliest thing you have seem an animal do?

There’s a whole lot of stupid things Koalas do. The next story is about a Goshawk, not a Koala, One story involved a Goshawk. We were called to retrieve it from someones backyard. Where it was harassing the birds inside their aviary, it got itself stuck between the aviary and the garden fence, and it couldn’t get out. In order to get the bird out the palings of the fence had to be removed, at which point it hopped out, glared at me like I’d inconvenienced it, and then flew off. That’s the only one I can think of at the moment. If I think of a better one I’ll check back in.

We also had one of the koalas get stuck behind a book case. They’re not very good at going backwards, and it must have thought that it could figure it’s own way out. We had to pull the book case out to get him. Came out looking like a drop bear, all covered in cobwebs and frightened.

Why can’t seals be raised?

There’s a few reasons, normally we would try to reunite the cub with the mother. But where it was found (km’s away from the main seal colony on Lady Julia Percy Island) made it impossible to find the mother. And if we had of put it back in the wrong area, the other seals or sharks would have killed it, or it would have starved to death.

The other way we could try and rehabilitate it would be to raise it ourselves, but once they’ve been raised like this there is no way to release them back into the wild. This is because they have not developed any hunting techniques and can’t fend for themselves. So ultimately they’d starve after release.

Are Koalas smart? Do they have distinct personalities, or are they more like giant hamsters?

No, Koalas are dumb as dog shit. It’s hilarious watching them sit in a tree three meters away from you and try and grab you with their hand. Or watch them coming down a tree, only to hit a branch with their bum and spend the next 5 minutes figuring out how to get around it. They do have pretty distinct personalities though, we’ve had ones that are broody, ones that love playing, ones that are clingy, ones that never quite stop being scared of people, ones that love cuddles, ones that hate them. It’s a real mix.

Koalas do good with being released though? Is there any danger to them, being somewhat humanized?

The first lot of Koalas we released were radio collared and tracked, to make sure they did well in the wild. I half expected them to stay together, but they split off pretty quickly and moved in their own direction. When we came back to check them they seemed to have forgotten who we were and it was a real fight to get them out of the tree to take the radio collars off. So yeah, they go pretty well in the wild after being released!

Have you become attached to a certain animal in the shelter, like one who you can tell apart from the others, or have given it a name or something?

David here, I’ll answer and if mum has got more to contribute when she comes back I’ll edit hers in.

The first animals we had I got kind of attached to, they were two brush tailed possums, called Milly and Columbus. They were awesome fun, and used to run up your leg, into your jacket and out the arm. A lot of the koalas have been fun too. But ultimately we’re raising them to be released, not to be kept as pets. So it’s often good to see them go off on their way!

As for being able to tell them apart and name them, we name all of them, normally based on their personality (ie, Myer was called Myer, because she had more front than Myer.) As they grow up it’s pretty easy to tell them apart if you’re around them alot. Be it from fluffier ears, a narrower face, a sassy attitude etc.

Do you wear ear-protectors when rehabbing dropbears?

Our vet just related a story of a call that he got a while ago. The caller was walking through the local botanical gardens and a koala fell out of the pine tree (about 30 feet) onto the footpath in front of them. It was very old and thin, and had to be put down properly afterwards. If it had of dropped a couple of seconds later it probably would have killed the person.

Do you sustain injuries inflicted by the animals often? What was your worst?

Occasionally. Depends a lot on the animal and the situation, and if you’re handling the animal correctly or not. My worst was the bite I sustained on my thumbnail when a koala decided it was going carnivorous.

Davids worst: I climbed up a tree to get a koala that had escaped from one of the enclosures down (a big female, probably 9-10kg). Normally you’d use a pole to get them to come down the tree, but I was in a rush, so I just pushed the top of it’s head with my hand. She started coming down, but then I reached a fork in the tree and couldn’t get out of the way, but the koala kept coming and went down my leg instead. Once it realized it wasn’t on the tree anymore (it’s butt was level with my knee) it started biting my hip, hard, very hard. I was only a meter and a half out of the tree so I just pushed off and hit the ground, mum got the koala and I ended up with some bruises. Nothing serious though.

What are you doing up at midnight?

Just finished cleaning up the echidna shit in the living room (little dude got out of his basket again) and am watching a bit of Startrek!

Wombats? I love wombats. Do you have any stories about the majesticness of wombats?

David here, we don’t often get wombats around our area, but we’ve had one that came in a while ago.

It’s name was Wanda, and it was a baby female wombat, probably just under 30cm from nose to arse. She was really cute, and it’s kind of sad we don’t have any photos of her. Anyway, she only stayed for 2 night before being taken to a different carer. But those two day, she slept in a basket on my bedroom floor. So I go to bed, thinking everything will be fine and she’ll sleep brilliantly. I wake up at around 2 am to a banging on the door and think mum’s trying to wake me up or something. After a while I roll out of bed and turn the light on. Here’s this wombat trying to run through the door, like continually ramming it to get out. Anyway, I put her back in the basket and go back to sleep. Woken up again about 15 minutes later with Wanda doing the same thing. I think, ‘Damn, what am I going to do?’ I ended up having to pull the mattress onto the floor and sleep on the floor with this wombat nuzzled into my armpit. She didn’t move a muscle after that. It was a sad day when she left.

What was the best experience you have had with one single animal, or the biggest recovery you’ve seen?

Wark the Northern Rock Hopper penguin. He was a very interesting bird. He was young and bonded to me. According to the blood tests he had pancreatitis so he had a problem keeping fish down. Long story short, he finally came good and put on all his weight. |Then he kept eating and was always hungry. He was preparing to molt. This meant he had to stay until he had finished molting and was waterproof again. In order to molt penguins need to get very fat as they have to stay on land as they are not waterproof. Unlike other birds that molt a few feathers at a time and replace continually, penguins molt them all in one go every year. I was asked to write an article on Wark that was published in the first publication of Australian Wildlife Secrets. Some cool photos of him in it.

What would you like to say to the people who sell Sugar Gliders as pets? I’m sure you occasionally have to take in ones who were purchased not knowing enough about them.

I dont like any wildlife species being used as pets. When you get to see animals in their natural environment doing what they are designed to, i find depressing seeing them reduced to a pet for humans enjoyment. Even if they are loved and cherished.

Do you ever take in any orphaned fox kits and raise them? If so, how do they behave? Do they like humans or are they very skittish and distant?

Fox’s are pest’s in Australia, and aren’t classified as wildlife. They’re often responsible for killing small wildlife, native birds and baby wildlife that wander too far from their parents. So people around here shoot them rather than caring for them.

What’s your biggest headache?

Members of the public. In a variety of ways; lack of consideration eg slowing down in areas that have wildlife, not calling someone when they have hit and injured an animal. The kangaroo we had to euthanise this morning had two completely severed back legs and was still alive. It was obvious by the dried blood that the injuries happened last night. Cutting down trees during spring when birds and possums are nesting in them. Trees that have been food sources to koalas for years and also escape routes from dogs removed because they block the view. Fish hooks and fishing line discarded cause endless problems too. I could go on and on….

What are your best koala stories? Koalas are my favorite animals! I’m jealous you get to love them everyday!

There’s quite a few stories! (Mum’s still out, I’ll relate a few of my experiences with them.)

Because they live in the living room when they’re younger, they tend to cut the house in half, so in order to get through you need to run the gauntlet of koalas. One time we had five inside and I was in a rush for school, clothes were in a clothes basket in the living room and I’d just gotten out of the shower. What happens next is a wild dance to try and avoid the 5 koalas running around the floor (looking for milk) and keep my legs in one piece. That would have been a funny site.

They’re pretty playful when they’re young too, you’d often walk past the living room and see 3 or 4 of them rolling around on the floor wrestling, or one spear tackling another from the top of the couch. They’re rather entertaining.

Hope that answered a few!

My friend had a couple sugar gliders and said they are super mean and growl at you all the time. Is this a fact or just a couple of bad natured sugar gliders? Or perhaps how he interacted with them?

Dave replying again, mum still isn’t back.

We had one come into care that was absolutely brilliant, ate it’s food, didn’t his or scratch, made a good recovery and was released. It came in extremely young, like, it’s eyes weren’t even open when it first arrived. I think this made a big difference in how it interacted with us.

The other one that came into care was the opposite, and I’m almost certain was possessed by satan. It hissed, scratched, bit, has to be force fed. It came in as an adolescent, with wide eyes and knew what was up. We eventually put it in our outdoor possum enclosure and soft released it on the property. It’s probably still around somewhere.

So I guess it’s a bit of hit and miss, but if they’ve had time to be wild, then bringing them into a house is probably a terrible idea for everyone involved.

How do you feel about the koala cull?

Thats a biggie and political and this is how I see it. The problem at Cape Otway could not have been solved any other way at the time. It was not a secret and the locals had been yelling the problem for a long time. However, the problem was caused in the first place by the mismanaged translocation program run over many, many years. We are going to have the same problem happening in South West Victoria but as the result of the blue gum plantations being harvested. The animals affected there will be in far greater numbers. Another very big hot topic.

How do you find the specialized veterinary care you need, and do you have to pay for it?

We are very, very lucky we have a friend who is our vet and is interested in wildlife. We pay for drugs and extra procedures but we get his time for free and this four day public holiday I have used and abused it. It is also hard in big vet clinics that have a lot of rotating vets so you dont get the same one. Also a lot of vets really just do domestics.

Are you pleased or annoyed when someone dumps an animal on your doorstep?

Pleased that someone hasnt just left it to die but annoyed if i dont get any info with it ie where it came from.

How can I have a life like yours?

It all sounds good but reality is completely different. Very long hours, no social life, house rarely ever tidy or clean, meals ALWAYS late (humans that is), always playing catch up with bills, late for work, always tired, garden turned into jungle, doing washing at midnight, always tired, always worrying and or thinking about the animals in care. Still want it?

Volunteering for these things is pretty big and important, and it takes a lot of your personal time. Having said that, do you have another job to provide for your family?

I work part time, sometimes twice a week sometimes four times. Very hectic when its a four day one. I also attend a lot of meetings in regard to wildlife issues so that can consume a lot of extra days. My husband is an engineer who is in full time employment. Couldnt do it without him.

Do you guys ever get dingoes? And what is your stance on their status as a part of Australian wildlife?

99 percent of a time its not a dingo. Its a hybrid ie dingo x pig dogg.

Unfortunately the dingo is easy to breed with. The dingo never had large prey so the sheep was left alone. As dingos x’ed with large domestic dogs they got bigger. Certainly 100 yeas ago a wild dingo could not bring down a sheep. It went for the lamb. Today. Dingo hybrids roam towns. They generally target drunken aborigines and white trash. Occasionally you hear of them taking a bull, or running a farmer off his turf. THey are suckers for tennnis balls and like pats.

Are there any chemical wastes, industrial wastes or pollutants that are detrimental to the wildlife there?

I am not sure about specific problems with chemical and industrial wastes in this area although I would think they would be similar to most small cities.

At what age did you realize that you want to become a volunteer Australian wildlife shelter?

I was 44 or near it.

What motivated you (and your family) to become volunteer wildlife carers?

A bushfire in a very high koala populated area started me with hands on stuff but I have always had an appreciation and love for nature.

What animal was the biggest asshole?

Hmm not sure that asshole is fair but I had a very difficult Fiordland penguin once. We called him Django. If you have seen the movie it will explain all. Moments of total calm and ‘unchained’ moments of violence directed at the back of my knees.

I’m a zoology major in the US who is hoping to involve myself in a refuge/rescue. What is your advice on getting started, on handling the workload, and on really putting out your best work with these animals?

As I am not sure of the set up in the US you would probably be better off asking a refuge over there. Workload is really up to you, the cut off point is personal. Dont overdo it and burn out, you are needed.

Good luck with it.

What sort of work do you do during/after natural disasters like bushfires?

During bushfires we wait to be asked to respond to rescues when its safe, assuming we are not evacuating ourselves. Once its safe and we have the ok we search for injured wildlife, rescue where possible and take to vets and or shelters. Often that is our shelter and we do the rescue, triage, treatment (with vets were needed), rehab and release.

Is there an easy way for fellow Aussies to donate to support registered Volunteer Wildlife shelters like yours?

Sometimes we need a specific piece of equipment like a set of scales or pruners for cutting branches – the list is endless. They could be purchased for the shelter. Just a donation of money can be used for purchasing formula or fish for seabirds. You are right there are a thousand expenses. Not sure about an easy way. Find one you are confident is doing the right thing and will spend the money on the animals. Thank you for thinking of us.

How many animals do you get in that are feral cat victims?

Cats dont need to be feral to be disastrous for wildlife. Wildlife rarely survive cat attacks. Feral cat attacks would have no chance. I doubt we have done more. Cats are incredible hunters and seem to have adapted to being dumped well. Once again its humans that caused the problem in the first place.

Have you ever fallen in love with an animal so much you ended up keeping them?

Have you ever fallen in love with an animal so much you ended up keeping them?