Veterinary nurse Casey Woodward is committed to protecting animals and has worked on conservation projects across the globe for ten years. She started the charitable initiative Animal Assist to help grassroots animal welfare and conservation projects in developing countries.
What is your job and what does the work involve?
I recently started an incredible role as Western Australia Project Coordinator for Tangaroa Blue Foundation. Its an Australian-based Not For Profit organisation dedicated to the removal and prevention of marine debris, one of the major environmental issues worldwide.
My role involves reinvigorating the charity’s presence in Western Australia and coordinating the WA Beach Clean-Up (October 15-18 2021) which has been running for 17 years, since the charities inception. It’s a really special time in the organisations calendar and we have some great support this year to help us cover more ground and have more of an impact.
Its honestly a privilege to be working for such a well-established and respected environmental charity that has a tangible impact on such a huge global environmental issue.
What motivated you to start charitable initiative Animal Assist?
In founding Animal Assist, my co-founder Murray Munro and I could see a glaring need for assistance to be offered to smaller, grassroots animal welfare and conservation projects in developing countries. The larger organisations have so many more funding opportunities available to them: professional fundraisers, corporate partnerships etc, but there are hundreds of small groups doing incredible things in the background. We wanted to try and highlight them and their projects and provide on-ground support by sourcing veterinary equipment and medicines, enrichment items and of course fundraising for ad-hoc project needs.
My motivation comes from being directly involved with these particular projects in some way over the past ten years. Knowing these people both personally and professionally gives me the trust I need to promote their projects, as I know they conduct their work ethically and responsibly.
Helping these groups is even more critical during a pandemic- it has certainly made our job harder and more expensive as we have to post everything and hope it arrives in one piece. Thankfully, in the last twelve months we have been in operation, every single box has arrived safely. We have raised over AU$30,000 and sent over 50kg of veterinary goods to our supported projects. We are small and its incremental change, but if we can brighten the day of one animal, make life easier for one colleague, it’s all worth it.
What attracts you to conservation work?
Conservation work can appear very appealing on the outside but once you get down into the nitty gritty, it is incredibly challenging work. There are very few wins and many setbacks, if I’m honest. You need to relish the wins when they happen, dust off your hands, and get back on with the fight. We are at such a critical time environmentally. There are so many issues that desperately need attention, and for someone like me that can feel overwhelming at times.
Thankfully there are some great people around the world to fight alongside. But it dosn’t need to all be pitchforks and torches. We all have the power to change the world in the simplest of ways. Buying a keep cup, heading to local markets to buy fruit and veg that isn’t wrapped in plastic, donating the cost of a beer each week to a charity that means something to us. It’s all about changing habits.
Can you describe a favourite moment working in the field?
I have had so many special moments over the last ten years but getting to work with Malaysian Sun Bears in Borneo in 2015 was a pivotal moment for me. I got to witness firsthand the plethora of issues facing wildlife in developing countries such as illegal wildlife trafficking, Asian medicine trade, deforestation and conversion of forests for unsustainable agriculture. Its complex, frustrating and sad.
When I was given the opportunity to take two orphaned female cubs out to a remote release camp and spend days out in the jungle watching them display natural behaviour instead of them being in a cage, that was absolutely incredible. Listening to the gibbon’s call, being followed by curious orangutan and watching two bears play in the swamplands, eating wild honey and sleeping in nests in the trees. I felt so incredibly blessed for the opportunity to be in those moments.
How do you deal with challenging or dangerous situations?
My least favourite moment was during a particularly bad storm in the Indonesian jungle when one of the bears named Koko become scared and ran away. I looked for her until dark when I had to head back to camp. I was terrified being out in the jungle at twilight and I couldn’t stop thinking that she felt the same way.
I continued to look for her for weeks, using radio tracking and covering sometimes up to 20km a day in thick swampland looking for any signs of her, calling out her name. I never found Koko again, but I did map twelve illegal hunting camps within the national park.
I think of her often and I named by daughter Coco in her honour. Losing Koko the bear was a particularly defeating moment and I really struggled to overcome the grief. I decided to head back to the care centre and use the rest of my time in Indonesia to provide care to adult sun bears that were unable to be released because they had become too habituated to humans. Caring for them was just as important, if not more important than the release work itself.
How are women supported in both conservation work and veterinary nursing?
These professions are vastly different in terms of women in the industry. Veterinary nursing is resoundingly female based. I think women are naturally drawn to the caring, empathetic role as it plays to our feminine side. Conservation, or at least the more publicised roles are resoundingly male. You need to have a thick skin to survive in long term conservation roles, especially the more remote posts and locations. I know many women that thrive in these roles such as Dr Karmele Sanchez, Dr Gabriella Fredriksson, Femke den Haas and Clare Campbell. They are true wildlife heroes and I admire them greatly.
Veterinary Nursing is a very rewarding and fascinating job and there are many different professional avenues you can take. It’s not all puppy cuddles though, so my advice would be trying to get a volunteer role to help a GP clinic out or volunteer at a domestic animal shelter to get some understanding of what is involved before leaping in and studying. You get to work with some of the most intelligent and kind people though which for me is such a bonus. Vets and Vet Nurses do not get half the accolades and attention they deserve for the incredible work they do!
Follow Casey and the unsung heroes of the natural world at Animal Assist