Taronga’s Wildlife Hospital sees some very unusual road accident victims.
Possums, wombats and even echidnas often fall victim to cars when crossing busy roads and end up at Taronga for care.
Around Sydney, possums are the most common road victims, although nationally, kangaroos top the list when it comes to animal injuries on the roads. Many of these victims survive because quick-thinking passersby take action when they see animal that has been hurt on the road and Zoo staff are glad that so many people are prepared to take the challenge of looking after survivors. With no ambulance assistance for wildlife, you may be in the position to provide emergency assistance on the spot, or transport an injured animal to a veterinary clinic or wildlife hospital. As warm weather approaches and we reacquaint ourselves with the great outdoors particularly during holiday road trips, it is worth taking the time to consider the steps that you’d need to take should such a situation arise.
If you see an injured animal, it is important to check for danger before you approach. If the animal is dead, check the pouch for any young before moving the body from the road, if safe to do so. This prevents further accidents when animals are attracted to the carrion.
If the animal is alive, pick it up with a towel or article of clothing, and carefully wrap it up before placing it in a well-ventilated cardboard box (if one is available). Do not offer food or water unless you’re instructed to by a veterinarian, and be sure to keep the animal warm while you’re taking it to a wildlife hospital. Organisations such as WIRES, RSPCA, and Sydney Wildlife are there to help when you have found a sick or injured animal in NSW, but keep in mind that support services vary between states.
Locally, Taronga Zoo’s Wildlife Hospital in Mosman serves as a treatment and rehabilitation centre. As well as looking after the Zoo’s 3500 animals, the Wildlife Hospital cares for over 1,000 native animals each year. The team at Taronga come across a myriad of species, and has built up enough expertise to tend to wildest animal ailments. They’ve nursed pelicans tangled in fishing lines, reconstructed broken tortoise shells using fibreglass, operated on injured gliders and taken blood tests from sea -eagles.
The Wildlife Hospital aims to rehabilitate and eventually release animals that they treat whenever possible, and involves the rescuers in the release if it’s practical. Day-to-day, the veterinarians at Taronga do annual animal health checks, parasitology examinations, vaccinations, diet plans, and specimen analysis. Because animals can’t tell the staff what’s wrong, diagnosing and monitoring the animals is a process guided by knowledge, experience, and intuition, whether the staff are looking after an infant Powerful Owl, a fully-grown Silverback Gorilla, and anything in between.
Recently, our keepers have been looking after two Ringtail Possums, which were brought in by local residents. Although both possums are around four months of age, you can see a considerable difference in their development: the larger, furrier female was carried into someone’s home by their cat before being brought into Taronga’s Wildlife Hospital. It is considerably larger than the young male possum, which may have spent days in his injured mother’s pouch before being rescued and given veterinary assistance. Although both animals are being nursed back to health, it’s important to realise that the sooner an injured or orphaned animal is brought in to care, the better its chance of survival.