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Dark future for rescue volunteers


Volunteers across the state are feeling the heavy pressure of rising demands for services and rising costs of living, and some fear they will soon be forced to give up devoting their time to financial security, as learns Fatima Halloum.

“You wouldn’t hit someone’s pet dog while you’re driving and drive on, would you?”

That’s a rhetorical question posed by Sue Anderson, a Wildlife Victoria volunteer for over 22 years.

Part of Ms. Anderson’s role with the organization is responding to calls about injured or distressed animals, such as a kangaroo being moved to the suburbs or those who have been injured by being hit by a vehicle.

“A lot of people don’t even bother to ring the bell, they hit them and they leave, [but] If they saw what I saw they wouldn’t do this,’ Ms Anderson said.

“If a vehicle hits them in the face or smashes their jaws, the poor will slowly starve. As they get sicker and weaker, I’ve even seen the foxes start eating them alive.

“[If] they break their legs, the bones are often protruding, or the wound may swell with infection to double in size and eventually turn black and covered in maggots.

Often joeys are left alive in the pouches of females and will die of hypothermia if not found in time.

The Wildlife Crisis Line is a free service available to all residents of Victoria, and volunteers are on call every day, seven days a week.

As we enter the busy spring and summer period, the organization expects to receive approximately 300 calls per day, which will put additional pressure on an already fragile service.

“There are more people, they expect more from us… there are not enough [volunteers]because most people have to go to work to survive and pay their bills,” Ms Anderson said.

Ms Anderson works with many volunteers across the state, including Trevor Crawford, who says he joined Wildlife Victoria because he loves animals.

“I find it gives me a direction and a purpose to help out there,” he said.

“It tends to take up your whole day most days, but unfortunately it also means you have no time to work, so you have no money and no financial support to do these rescues.”

Mr. Crawford also runs his own security company which he often takes on in the background to save his pet.

“It’s almost become a full-time business because of the… number of rescues we’ve been getting lately,” he said.

“I get calls all the way to Daylesford, through outskirts of Ballarat, outskirts of Geelong and western suburbs of Melbourne.”

Clashes with native wildlife were once reserved for dusty gravel roads deep in outback Australia, but as housing development pushes further into the animals’ habitats, their contact with humans is becoming more regular.

“Talking to rescuers who have been doing this for over 20 years, they all say rescues have never been busier before,” Mr Crawford said.

“We have such unique native animals…people travel from all over the world to see them and yet we look at them as if they are parasites.

“But they’re also in pain, they’re…nice to be around…and leaving them on the side of the road with their paws broken to pieces, slowly dying over days or weeks, nobody would want that for their pet. ”

Mr Crawford believes the work of volunteers is essential, but says it is unfortunate that their work is not recognized.

“The people who take the calls and send people are funded by donations, but the lifeguards are not [paid],” he said.

“The problem is that the only people who can [volunteer] are people who already have this financial support behind them, or people who are retired, so they’re not going to rescue for very long anyway.

Young volunteers tend to save until they run out of money, Crawford says, and with inflation affecting food, gas and mortgages, many volunteers are already struggling.

“It’s not sustainable for us…I think at the bare minimum the costs have to be covered, you at least break even, so you’re not eating away at your savings,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Lands, Water and Planning said the department believes the work carried out by wildlife sanctuaries and foster families is “of a critically important in helping to rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife”.

“To give them a helping hand, the Government of Victoria is providing $230,000 to support wildlife rehabilitators in Victoria through the Wildlife Rehabilitation Grant Scheme,” the spokesperson said.

“Wildlife shelter operators and foster families can apply for grants of up to $3,000 for equipment, infrastructure, consumables, education and training.”

Currently, the organization relies on funding from corporations, philanthropic trusts and foundations, bequests, project grants, and the kindness of individual donors.

There are also non-monetary ways people can help.

If you witness a distressed animal, there are several ways to make the rescue process easier for volunteers.

“We can search for hours and hours and not find the animal because it is lying in the grass,” Mr Crawford said.

“If you see an animal, stop, mark your position [by] dropping a pin on Google Maps or tying something to a tree… then calling Wildlife Victoria makes it a lot easier for us.

Details: 8400 7300