4th July to 8th July 2011
Currumbin Wildlife Hospital
On the suggestion of Chris, I contacted the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary concerning volunteer opportunities. I was almost immediately offered a position at the wildlife hospital if I could commit to the 2 week minimum. Checking my calender I worked out that the two weeks would just barely fit into my schedule and promptly agreed. Monday was to be my first day and I was thrown in shortly after arriving, they almost forgot to give us a tour of the facility. Along with me were two new volunteers, Hamish and Collette were doing a two week practicum for vet school.
Some of my first duties were to follow Jess in the cleaning of cages and preparation of medication. At first glance there were mostly birds, but with some scuffling of papers under the bird cages I discovered my first echidna, Snorky. So named because one of his nostrils had grown over and he constantly made a snorky sound.
Other than cleaning cages, I was taught how to medicate birds, how to handle the echidnas and medicate them and was also monitoring animals during surgery and examinations.
At the end of day one I headed to meet with my host for the week, a very cool journalist by the name of Kate. I was so exhausted that I could barely move, but after a hot bath the feeling returned to my legs… standing all day in the work force was never my cup of tea. Kate turned out to be a fantastic host and also about to leave on a monumental year long trip, to Europe. It was great talking to her about travel and writing and getting ideas and advice.
Day two started much the same with lots of cleaning and monitoring and standing. Only this time I had been put in charge of force feeding the Kookaburrahs. Tash, our head nurse, had showed me how to do it the day before and had then passed the responsibility to me. With 4 birds in the hospital this could take a while. Kookaburrahs are renowned for not eating by themselves while in hospital and so force feeding was required. This meant shaping balls of meat into worm like shapes and then shoving it as far down the birds throat as you could. I ended up being quite good at it.
We also had a flying fox come in. Due to diseases including rabies, it was only handled by the vet and experienced staff. We were also concerned about a recent breakout of Hendra Virus in the area. Spread by bats droppings in water sources for horses and then to humans the disease manifests very quickly and is often deadly. Luckily we had no horses in the clinic so were not concerned about catching it, still made us nervous and we needed to test the bat for the disease.
Due to monitoring a bandicoot (similar to large shrew) surgery I only got to force feeding the kookaburrahs at 4.30pm, we finish at 5pm. Luckily I was down to 3 as one had been released. But it still took me a lot longer and with cleaning we only got out after 5.30pm.
Day three saw a new head nurse, Shelley, who was fantastic and let me medicate the birds without checking on me. Tash had done a great job teaching me, and so had no problem drawing up correct meds and squirting them down the throats of birds such as Cuckoo Shrikes, Fantailed Cuckoos, finches, King Quail and Crested Pigeons.
We also had a young wallaby come in and tiny baby possum. The wallaby had been caught on a fence and had an injury to its foot. The possum baby had possibly been found after its mother was hit by a car.
Wednesday continued on the coat tails of Tuesday and had us out late again. During the afternoon while preparing the little bandicoot for surgery to debrade the area around a wound caused by an abscess after a cat attack, we noticed he did appear to be as active as he usually was. We put him on oxygen and I watched his progress. Just as a large group of visitors came to peer through the windows of the hospital (we are on exhibit as well) I realised the bandicoot had stopped breathing. Erina, our vet, gave him a shot of adrenalin and we tubed him in an attempt to save his life. Unfortunately, he had given up the ghost and moved on to happier pastures, most likely without cats. Since the public was watching we had to be very careful how we handled him and had to cradle him as if he were still with us. What a day that was.
That night Kate and I went to the local suf pub to watch “State of Origin”, a very big rugby game between New South Wales and Queensland teams. We met up with some of her friends and enjoyed a few drinks. The game started with what appeared to be a walk over by Queensland, but in the second half New South Wales put up a heck of a fight. It was a great night.
Thursday saw Shelley and I well on top of everything and without any emergencies we were done by 4.30pm. 2 More kookaburrahs had also been transferred out to foster care (animals go to foster care for a few days before being released). Leaving me with my favorite, who I had dubbed Hamish after the vet student (they both gave me very sarcastic looks). Kookaburrah Hamish had leg issues and was unable to perch. In fact he seemed to have no strength in his legs whatsoever, which was very concerning.
Friday turned out to be a really really slow day. I focused on laundry and didn’t even get round to cleaning a cage let alone medicating an animal. Shelley and I decided to make it a half day for me and I called Chris who said he would pick me up at 1pm. Of course, as Murphy’s Law would dictate, just before 1pm we had a koala come in. After x-rays we discovered he had broken his pelvis, the person who brought it in thought he may have fallen from the tree, the local term for that is a “Drop Bear”. As I was walking through the door we had a possum come in as well. Oh well, thats how it goes and there were so many vet students and nurses on duty I would most likely have been in the way.
It was a fantastic experience and would do it again in a heart beat. I now also have a special place in my heart for Kookaburrahs.
Some interesting cases
We had a duck come in with severe motor and neurological issues. He was unable to stand or balance and was constantly throwing his head around in spastic movements.
We x-rayed him to find no visible fractures or injuries.
We gave him charcoal in case he had ingested something with no apparent improvement.
We gave him anti-seizure medication, again with no improvement.
After a full week of monitoring him and unable to think of anything else we were forced to euthanise. After a necropsy, we discovered his right ear had been full of a waxy buildup, but we are unsure if the 2 issues were related.
The bandicoot had been in the hospital for almost 2 weeks before he past away. He had been attacked by a cat and was bordering on frankenstein with all the stitches. Our biggest concern was the large wound on his right hip, after the initial attack this area had abscessed and we were continually forced to debrade and cut out dead tissue. Apparently this species is known to have tissue turn necrotic after a cat bite. Erina would use honey on the wound to help with infection and special algae patches to cover it. We did all we could and we were all sorry when we were unable to save him.
Hamish the Kookaburrah
Of the 5 kookaburrahs that came in 3 made it into foster care. 1 died unexpectantly and the 5th was Hamish. He appeared to have spinal injuries as he was unable to perch or use his feet but there were no definate injuries to be seen on x-rays. After 5 days with no improvement and without the hope of him eating on his own and therefore living an ok life in captivity we were forced to euthanise him on my last day. However, due to his spectacular plummage we were able to save his tail and wings to be use for grafting purposes onto kookaburrahs that might need them, so you see even animals are organ donors, or would that be plummage donors.
The koala that came in on my last day had severe internal bleeding and a broken pelvis. He was transferred to the Australia Zoo (of Steve Erwin fame) where we hoped he might be able to get the care and surgeries he would require.