Volunteering With Animals – Part Four: Wildlife Foster Carers

Photo via AWARE Wildlife RescueWildlife caring is both more involved, and less involved than caring for companion animals. All wildlife carers and shelters in Victoria must be licensed by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) and undergo training in wildlife care to comply with the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Wildlife During Rehabilitation. Some shelters and groups receive grants or donations, but the cost of transport, equipment, medication and food required are usually paid for out of the carers pocket.  Baby animals may need feeding around the clock and sick or injured animals may need to stay in care for quite some time, so you can expect the role to be both time-consuming and expensive.

However, independence and an instinctual fear of humans and domestic animals is essential for the survival of native animals, so carers are encouraged to handle them as little as possible. They must be kept apart from all pets, children and noises of the home, remain on the designated property except for visiting the vet and being released, and not be handled by friends or guests. The work of a carer includes providing shelter, water and food for the animal, cleaning their enclosures and may include administering medications.

Possum eyesA “shelter” consists of carers with the experience and equipment to provide care of wildlife with minimal support from others (except for a veterinarian for medical issues). Some shelters are larger groups or organisations, but individuals can also register as a ‘shelter’ once they have the training and experience to care for wildlife independently. To start caring for wildlife you must become a carer for a shelter. The shelter will provide training and support either in a group or via one-on-one mentoring. Once you have started this training you can register with the DEPI as a carer for the shelter.

I hate to turn people off this kind of volunteering – but the sad truth of it must be mentioned. Not all of these animals can be saved, and euthanasia is sometimes the only option. Animals must be 100% fit to survive in the wild, so if a full recovery cannot be made they must be euthanised. You may theorize that severely injured animals could be adopted and live out their lives as pets, but for wild animals this is an extremely stressful experience and a very poor quality of life. All wildlife must be released close to where they were originally found, which increases their chances of reclaiming their territory and finding appropriate food, reduces the spread of disease, stops unnatural interbreeding and stops introduced animals from threatening other wildlife of an area. If they cannot be released where they were found they are legally required to be humanely destroyed.

Although the work is costly, demanding and sometimes comes with heartbreak, watching an animal grow, recover and return to thrive in its natural environment can be immensely rewarding to foster carers. The most common animals requiring carers in Victoria are possums, magpies, ducks and Eastern Grey Kangaroos, and the kinds of animals you are asked to care for will largely depend on your experience and facilities. I found this adorable video by Wildlife Victoria which will hopefully inspire you to help despite the challenges:

There ‘s heaps of great information on becoming a wildlife carer, but the first step is to get in touch with a shelter operator in your area. The Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife’s website has a great list of shelters across Australia to get you started.
Do you have any heartwarming stories of rescued wildlife? I’d love yo hear them in the comments section!

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