Australia is famed for having some of the most unique, dangerous and cuddly critters in the world, yet sadly many of our native species are doing it tough. Distressing images of declining Koala populations and the destruction of millions of hectares of land in the wake of bushfires have flooded social media of late, reminding us of the ongoing vulnerability of our fauna.
Australia is home to between 600-700,000 species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. A raft of laws and regulations are in place to protect our biodiversity, threatened species, and ecological communities. Yet natural disasters, extreme weather events, disease, and human activities continue to take their toll on our animals and their habitats.
Thankfully, each year, committed volunteers across Australia work tirelessly to protect, rescue and rehabilitate vulnerable animals. Dedicated helplines field thousands of calls from concerned community members seeking advice on what to do with wildlife they have found.
And, while it may be tempting to scoop up a distressed little creature and bundle them home to look after, we must resist. Within Australia, the only people permitted to take sick, injured or orphaned native animals into care are licensed wildlife rescue and rehabilitation providers and qualified vets.
But don’t worry, there are still plenty of other ways we can assist.
Call for help
If you find wildlife in strife, call an expert for advice on what to do. Wildlife Rescue Australia offers 24/7 emergency telephone support via 1300 596 457 and will link with local organisations to facilitate the rescue of native animals across Australia.
Most States/Territories also have their own helplines. Check out the Australian Fauna Care database or Backyard Buddies for a list of what’s local. Save the number into your phone or download one of the wildlife rescue apps available in your area.
Visit a vet
If you encounter an injured animal, and it is safe to do so, carefully take the animal to the nearest vet as soon as you can. (Most vets will treat wildlife free of charge.) A quick response will increase an animal’s chances of recovery and survival. It’s also a good idea to alert the local wildlife service with the details so they can follow up.
An Introduction to Australian Wildlife is a free online course designed to help people, especially those new to Australia, to learn more about our native animals. Developed by the NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service, the resource is available in English, Arabic and Chinese and suitable for all ages.
For an interactive and educational experience, visit one of the many wildlife sanctuaries or zoos to learn more (and teach your kids) about native Australian species.
So you want to get more involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of native animals? Consider joining a local wildlife rehab or apply for a role with one of the telephone helplines. Most will require you to complete basic immediate care and rescue training on topics such as species identification, common rescue scenarios, safe handling techniques, and First Aid.
There are also specialist animal training courses available for those interested in providing rehabilitative care for certain species. It can be helpful to talk to experienced volunteers and consider the time, resources and environment you have available before deciding which species would best suit you.
Be an advocate
Several of Australia’s animals – think sharks, magpies, snakes and spiders – can get a bad rap. Learning to live with wildlife and helping others to understand some of our more formidable animals can increase community acceptance of their existence and ultimately contribute to their long term protection.
Be a virtual volunteer and contribute money to organisations committed to conservation, animal welfare, education, and research into wildlife issues. Join online fundraisers and don’t forget to spread the word – promote your good deed loud and proud!
Help hot and bothered wildlife by leaving shallow dishes of water in the shade. To prevent drowning, add a few rocks or sticks to larger containers so small animals can easily crawl out. Avoid the use of metal bowls as these will become hot, and place water out of the way of human activity, predators and domestic pets.
Protecting Australia’s native animals can be a difficult task at times. Our critters need ongoing support and sustained help from all of us to ensure that they not only survive but thrive. This summer, do what you can to support our incredibly special wildlife and strive to minimise your impact on their habitats.