Never in her four year career as a veterinarian did Meg Rodgers think she would perform an emergency caesarean on a bobtail lizard.
- Perth is home to Australia’s first holistic wildlife trauma hospital
- It provides rescue, surgery and rehabilitation for native animals
- Vets are innovating surgical procedures for injured wildlife
“It’s definitely not your average surgery, that’s for sure,” she said.
Dr Rodgers is not your average vet. She works on the frontline of Australia’s first holistic trauma hospital for native wildlife.
The hospital, in Perth’s southern suburbs, provides specialist emergency procedures for injured animals and rehabilitates them for release.
“There’s never a dull day,” Dr Rodgers said as she removed fishing hooks from a pelican’s beak.
“You hardly ever see the same thing twice.
“There’s a lot of different animals that come in that need help … you just have to try and figure out a way to save them.
“There’s no textbooks on how to do this, you just have to be a little bit innovative and figure it out.”
The WA Wildlife trauma hospital opened in April and has already saved dozens of critically injured animals that would have otherwise been euthanased.
The facility mirrors any modern hospital for humans — it has an intensive care unit, recovery wards, radiology equipment, even a decontamination chamber.
“Wildlife medicine in Australia is still in its infancy and we are essentially pioneering a lot of new techniques that haven’t been able to be done before,” said hospital manager Dean Huxley.
“We’re now able to do all sorts of procedures like skin grafts, orthopaedic repairs on really tiny animals, microsurgery, electro surgery.
Mr Huxley said the in-house rescue to release model is unlike any other wildlife facility in the country.
“We can essentially manage the animal from rescue all the way right through to release.
“We haven’t been able to find this done anywhere else where that animal is managed holistically from start to finish.”
Admissions are coming through the door daily, whether from other less-resourced wildlife care groups or members of the public.
“It can be anything from a small honeyeater that’s flown into a window right up to an emu that’s been burned in a bushfire in a paddock,” Mr Huxley said.
He said human behaviour was to blame for most of the animals’ injuries.
“Our top three are motor vehicle incidents, cat attacks and entanglement,” he said.
“We’re seeing hundreds of animals each year with hooks, with fishing line, all sorts of necrotic limbs because of that chronic entanglement.
“It’s becoming more and more prevalent.”
Big gaps in wildlife medicine
The animals are treated by a small team of veterinarians like Dr Rodgers and cared for by volunteers.
“It’s always very rewarding to see an animal that has come in such a state that previously they wouldn’t have been able to have anything done to them, to be able to fix them,” she said.
“Putting them through surgery and ongoing rehab and then seeing them released at the end of the day, it’s very rewarding.
“It’s hard work, that’s for sure, but it’s what we’re here for.”
Dr Rogers said while medical care for household pets was far advanced in Australia, there were gaps in wildlife medicine and rehab.
Of course, not all animals can be saved.
“We do as much as we can,” Dr Rodgers said.
“For these animals to be able to survive in the wild, they need to be pretty fit and healthy.
“For example, if it’s a flighted animal and we can’t restore its flight, then unfortunately, the only option for them is often euthanasia.”
Resident rescue animals changing human behaviour
For more than two decades, WA Wildlife worked out of a tiny old cottage on site which is now being renovated into an education facility.
30 different former-rescue animals permanently live in purpose-built enclosures in the backyard, including two dingos, a wombat, snakes and emus.
“We want people to come down, have a hands on opportunity with wildlife,” Mr Huxley said.
“They can get that connection with the animal, get that love for that animal, and then walk through our hospital and see a surgery.
“They can have that click moment that ‘oh my behaviour causes that outcome’ and then they’ll go away with a slightly better appreciation for how they can help wildlife.
The hospital also runs programs for schools.
“The whole purpose is just to teach the coming generation how to look after the environment and help these animals,” said rehabilitation manager Karen Clarkson.
“Some of the kids have never had an opportunity to see these animals or pet these animals.
“It’s quite unique. I mean, if you get a chance to pat wombat, there’s no better experience!”
Volunteers work out of love, passion
As work ramps up, the organisation is looking at expanding its partnership with a nearby university.
“We’re looking at some long-term opportunities with Murdoch University in the form of research, but also in providing better wildlife medicine programs, and teaching the next generation of vets how to care for wildlife,” Mr Huxley said.
“We are a not for profit, so we’re not working to achieve a financial outcome, we’re working to achieve an outcome for the best interest of these animals.
“Everyone is doing this out of love, out of passion and everyone supports the cause.”
The hospital is being funded through a partnership with the City of Cockburn and is part of a larger $6 million environmental and wildlife precinct under construction at Bibra Lake.