Ransom- I mean Random Notes, best describes my plans for blog. I’ll aim for a monthly post where possible but I’ve named the blog random for good reason. I’m an Australian author writing adventurous Romantic Suspense stories set in the Australian bush near my rural property in East Gippsland, Victoria. Four large National Parks cluster at the NSW end of this shire and seven rivers run into either our huge lake system, or straight out to sea. This “Naturally magic” area is situated at the eastern end of the famous Ninety-Mile Beach and extends some 350km to the NSW border. Melbourne city is about the same distance in the opposite direction. Head inland 150kms or so and you’re in the snow fields. So, the best of all worlds is in easy commuting distance. Sorry to sound like a travel advert, but this is the world I set my books in. It used to be a favorite holiday place then we decided to live here.
The topics for the posts will respond to reader interest – at the moment, most people want to hear stories about my Wildlife Rescue/Shelter patients. In due course, that will expand to discuss my books, I hope.
First up, you need to know all wildlife is protected by law. This means it is illegal to have wildlife in your possession without a license. People who rescue an injured creature on a roadside and wish to look after it need to get a registered shelter operator to act as mentor. This ensures you have the essentials covered for that species and some husbandry skills. If you happen to come across injured wildlife and are competent to handle the species, by all means go ahead and do a Rescue ie bundle off to vet or shelter asap.
If the road is not safe or you are not confident to handle/transport the creature, simply phone in and give directions to the location. Dial directory assistance and ask for a Wildlife rescue organization and they’ll connect you.
Be warned cute they may be, but they will scratch, bite and struggle to escape you. Basic care for injured wildlife involves placing them in a quiet, warm and dark environment. Don’t worry about feeding them. During stress, shock of capture and injury the last thing we think of is food. Worry about hydration if they end up in your care for more than two hours. Most importantly don’t fall in love and hide it away for fear it will be taken away. I’ve had herbivores euthanized because someone reared it on pet meat or forced a lactose intolerant species to drink cow’s milk or baby formula for a week. All marsupials (pouch baby mums) are lactose intolerant.
More often than not, Shelter operators like me will assist with correct food, equipment and basic training – ie you operate under our license but keep wildlife in your own home. Be warned – it’s an expensive volunteer task and requires true commitment. Not-yet-furred/feathered babies need 3hr feeds around the clock for a few weeks. They bond, so an orphan baby wombat will need to stay with his human mum for around two years. If a single feed is skipped or hygiene is sub standard you’ll kill the baby. Some can’t thermo-regulate, so if they get too hot (or cold) for one hour it dramatically reduces their chance for survival. There is a link between over-heating and permanent blindness, for example and renal failure from not being warm enough. Sudden increases or drops in body temperature need to be avoided.
Do not assume a lively creature is doing anything other than trying to escape your care. To a wild creature, your care is as foreign to him as abduction by aliens is to us. Do not mistake a quiet animal for a happy one. Shock and terror keep them quiet. They hide pain as a rule even in the wild. Capture myopathy (stress of being captured/restrained) kills many kangaroo joeys. One day they’re fine, the next dead. We love cuddling and patting wildlife but keep in mind that they’d prefer we treated them more like their parents do in the wild. At home today, I have a few different creatures in care, but I’m dedicating this post to my favorite animals – Kangaroos.
When white settlers first tried to obtain the name of this animal from the local Aboriginal people, the response sounded like Kangaroo and it stuck. By the time it was explained that kangaroo translated to “I don’t understand” the animal was on the Australian coat of arms, along with the emu. They were chosen because both travels forward at great speeds but neither can go backwards. Isn’t that still a great motivator for us, today?
The Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) is born the size of a cherry and climbs into its mother’s pouch, unaided, day one. I love that built-in persistence. Once inside, it latches onto a teat and settles in for a few months. Female kangaroos can be pregnant every day of the year except for the day they give birth. They can arrest the development of an embryo until the older joey is ready to leave the pouch. She can vary the milk formula to suit the needs of the babies and can produce two different formulas from two teats at the same time. Pretty impressive.
At around four months of age, a pouch baby will weigh around 500gr, have a 137mm tail and 78mm foot. They’re all legs and tail! From about eight months (2.5kg) it comes out of pouch to browse and exercise for brief periods. It dives back in at any sign of danger. It becomes “fully emerged” at ten-twelve months (5kg) and sleeps outside the pouch but snuggled against mum. By now he has a 500mm tail and 240mm foot but won’t leave mum until eighteen months old.
I have two orphaned, kangaroo joeys in my care at the moment. There’s a dedicated room and I am the only person who handles (because they’re used to one mum.) ‘Scab’ came in as a 1kg furless Joey who had bounced off bitumen after his mum collided with a car. Mum died. Scratches marred his little pink-skinned body and he had a big scab on his forehead. Joeys live in hanging pouches and sleep between feeds so I aim for minimal disturbance. Sponge baths are done inside the pouch and then a quick shift to a pre-warmed, clean pouch.
‘Felix’ came in three weeks ago as a 1.8 kg Joey with a nice velvety coat, but frozen in shock. He settled in quickly, taking his cue from Scab. This happens a lot, second patients are more relaxed because the resident animal is already relaxed with human which makes the new animal feel safer. Seeing the two together brought my attention to Scab’s reluctance to stand or stretch as much as the smaller joey during mat time. I took a break from rearing Kangaroos in mobs when my widowed, wheelchair-bound mum moved in. A stroke left her right-side paralyzed so she needed daily help. Anyway, I passed on all creatures which needed more time/energy than I could spare. I’d do the rescue only and pass on the creature. I really missed sitting on the lawn, reading a book on a blanket while they munched on grass around me. Another shelter couldn’t find an emergency baby-sitter so I agreed to help but warned she may not get her new kangaroo back after a week’s bonding. LOL She didn’t.
I generally don’t release from my own back yard although I have a free range mob which browses the back paddocks. We’re too close to a 100km / hr highway for that. Instead at around 6kg, they go live on the back porch of a friend’s place located further from the highway. Some return if hungry (drought years) or have a baby to show off. There’s a whole etiquette thing with joining wild mobs, the dominant male can kill young bucks who don’t respect his authority. Of course those raised by humans are at a disadvantage so the earlier the hand reared ones can mix with the wild ones the better. Dominant males don’t consider juveniles a threat and therefore are less likely to smack them hard enough to hurt. Of course, young females are never chased off…
Scab and Felix will go there early spring when there’s lots of fresh food around, along with any others who join this little mob. Some creatures are solitary and can be raised alone, but Kangaroos need to be raised and released as a group. So if you take one, the next three or four are yours too. They are a joy and I still consider it a privilege to be able to be this close to them but it can be a heartbreaking experience at times. Probably close to half the injured creatures either die of their injuries or need to be euthanized because they don’t make a full recovery.
Right now, I need to deal with the fact that ‘Scab’ may be euthanized in the next couple of weeks if his ‘lame’ leg doesn’t improve. These animals reach speeds of 50km/hr and can jump over 2.5m fences. The problem is mainly the fact they need two ‘even’ legs to hop. They store elastic strain energy in the tendons of their hind legs which provides the spring needed to hop. Felix can’t stand for long, but he is more evenly balanced. Scab has one leg giving way beneath him. There’s muscle there, he has resistance but he can’t stand evenly even when supported. I’m wondering if we missed some kind of spinal injury or a hairline fracture by leaving him alone to settle that first week. I decided to go into town and consult with the vet again.
Unfortunately he confirms my suspicions. One leg is weaker. Euthanasia is mentioned. My license requires I not release unfit animals into wild populations. I understand and agree that we need to protect the health of the others. I also agree a wild animal deserves a certain quality of life. Unfit animals are easier prey and attract predators. With a life span of twenty years, it’s not viable to cage Scab and take him out for an evening browse. Kangaroos are most active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular) which is not a convenient time to be out with a disabled, 8ft tall, 95kg kangaroo each day while he browse for hours nibbling grass and sniffing out fungi.
Option two involves more human intervention – this seems fair given human intervention caused his injury and killed his mum. Some massage and physiotherapy after each feed may result in enough improvement to stay his execution, so I’ve suggested I try that. My vet will review and pull rank if there’s no hope of a good recovery. At that point I’ll have to suck it up and do what needs doing, but until then, this little boy is in training as if his life depended on it.
Sometimes magic just happens with these babies. I’m not a qualified animal doctor, I’m just a volunteer but I have seen healing occur against the odds. Fully paralyzed adult kangaroos (trapped in electric fencing) have sat there for weeks and then one day, they get up and it’s like the brain has rewired itself. Okay, mostly they don’t recover paralysis. But scab is not paralyzed, he has feeling and uses that leg to get into his pouch quickly when he’s spooked.
No easy answers but that seemed like the best decision while waiting for the X-ray report to come back. I’ll leave this here for now.
Happy to take questions and comments but I’m on rural dial up and may take a day to reply.
As this is my first attempt at blogging I’m asking for people to subscribe using the link in the sidebar. I have photos current wildlife in care on my Facebook page, so click the Like button to let me know you are interested in hearing and seeing more from me.
Next time I’ll post about a batch of emu chicks we raised after “Rednecks” shot their parents for fun. Plus Scab’s progress (he’s in the photo with me) with our muscle-building efforts.
Until then, be well,