RSPCA-funded wildlife response
Zoos Victoria’s ability to respond to wildlife emergencies is being transformed with a wildlife ambulance, upgraded hospital facilities and the appointment of a health and welfare specialist – all thanks to funds donated to RSPCA’s bushfire appeal.
The funding partnership will create a connected wildlife hospital network across the state, with new wildlife treatment facilities at Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary and Werribee Open Range Zoo, serviced by a customised vehicle that will be known as the RSPCA & Zoos Victoria Wildlife Response Unit, based at Healesville Sanctuary.
The $3.3 million in RSPCA bushfire funding – including $1.5 million from RSPCA’s National Bushfire Appeal – has also allowed the creation of a Zoos Victoria Wildlife Health & Welfare Specialist role to ensure that wildlife health and welfare is integrated into emergency response plans, recovery programs and environmental protection policy. The role - believed to be the first of its kind in Australia - has been filled by Dr Leanne Wicker, who project managed the rescue, rehabilitation and return of koalas and other species injured during the 2020 Victorian bushfires.
Zoos Victoria CEO Dr Jenny Gray said the significant investment in infrastructure and planning would benefit native wildlife across a wide geographical area before, during and after emergency events.
“This investment in Victoria’s wildlife welfare emergency approach will transform the way we respond to surges in demand,” Dr Gray said. “It will allow more animals in need to receive immediate care, particularly during emergency events, which we know will be more likely as climate change continues to increase the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, like we saw in the Black Summer bushfires.
“None of this would be possible without the incredible partnership we have with RSPCA, both in Victoria and nationally. We are grateful to join forces with RSPCA Victoria to bring these critical projects to life.”
RSPCA Victoria CEO Dr Liz Walker said that by increasing capacity to respond to wildlife emergencies, the Zoos Victoria and RSPCA collaboration changes the landscape for the welfare of Victoria’s native animals.
“We are incredibly pleased to be partnering with Zoos Victoria to continue our collaborative work to extend emergency care available for Victorian wildlife. Made possible by the generosity of Australians who donated to RSPCA’s bushfire appeal, the Wildlife Response Unit, along with the upgraded hospital facilities and the appointment of a health and welfare specialist, means more work can be done to provide critical care to vulnerable wildlife during emergencies.”
The Wildlife Response Unit is now operational, transporting injured wildlife to Healesville Sanctuary’s Australian Wildlife Health Centre where RSPCA funding will also see the expansion of existing laboratory facilities.
Melbourne Zoo’s expanded wildlife facility will be equipped to house many different Australian wildlife species, such as small mammals, reptiles and birds, with a particular focus on koalas and bat species during emergency events. The facility is expected to be constructed and operational by early next year.
A new RSPCA Koala Ward at Werribee Open Range Zoo’s veterinary hospital will treat wildlife from the western regions of the state and will also be completed by next year. A large eucalypt browse plantation at the zoo will provide a critical food source for koalas and wildlife whilst they are in care.
This latest partnership between Zoos Victoria and RSPCA Victoria builds upon a strong existing relationship. During the 2020 devastating bushfire season Zoos Victoria’s veterinary teams treated and rehabilitated bushfire-affected wildlife, and RSPCA Victoria deployed its Mobile Animal Care Unit and support staff to triage locations. Both organisations continue to actively support communities and animals through the recovery. In 2018, the organisations jointly launched Safe Cat, Safe Wildlife, an initiative that provides cat owners with advice, tips, and tools to help their felines live a happy life indoors - enabling local wildlife to freely roam and flourish.