Mobile hospital to save our wildlife treasures

There's a critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle, a baby plover who has somehow swallowed a piece of metal, a sick sea snake, a lorikeet that can't fly and, as veterinarian Dr Bree Talbot checks a tiny, adorable baby sugar glider possum found in a felled tree, it jumps on her head.

Welcome inside the new Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital (BBWH), a fully equipped, mobile hospital inside a prime-mover dedicated to treating and saving our precious wildlife.

 

Vet Dr Bree Talbot with an adventurous baby Sugar Glider at the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital. Photo Danielle Smith
Vet Dr Bree Talbot with an adventurous baby Sugar Glider at the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital. Photo Danielle Smith

Before last summer's devastating bushfires that killed or displaced an estimated three billion native animals, local Lennox Head veterinarians Dr Stephen Van Mil and Dr Evan Kosack dreamt of a unique wildlife vet service that could, if required, travel go to the frontline in a country that swings between fire, flood and drought in the hope of preventing extinction and the decline of native species.

"Wildlife are in peril daily and it is exacerbated when a crisis occurs.

Vet Dr Bree Talbot with Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital founders Dr Stephan Van Mil, left and Dr Evan Kosak assess the X-ray of the plover that has ingested metal. Photo Danielle Smith
Vet Dr Bree Talbot with Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital founders Dr Stephan Van Mil, left and Dr Evan Kosak assess the X-ray of the plover that has ingested metal. Photo Danielle Smith

"It was very frustrating watching those fires and knowing we weren't ready, we could have been in Cobargo, or Mallacoota or Part Macquarie, but this year and beyond we are ready," Dr Van Mil said.

The entire hospital has been funded by the charity of ordinary Australians. A crowd funding campaign in June raised $600,000 and sponsors chipped in another $200,000 to fit out the hospital with state of the art endoscopy worth $60,000, a portable digital X-ray machine worth $70,000 and ultrasound worth $32,000. Volvo donated the prime mover.

The mobile Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital is kitted out with state of the art equipment. Photo Danielle Smith
The mobile Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital is kitted out with state of the art equipment. Photo Danielle Smith

"The reality is, if and when there is a wildlife crisis anywhere in Australia we can get the entire hospital there as quickly as it takes to drive there," Dr Van Mil said.

Dr Evan Kosack said local vets had traditionally provided their time to treat wildlife constantly.

Vet Olly Pitt from Australian Seabird Rescue and Dr Bree Talbot moving Nutelle the Green Sea Turtle at Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital. Photo Danielle Smith
Vet Olly Pitt from Australian Seabird Rescue and Dr Bree Talbot moving Nutelle the Green Sea Turtle at Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital. Photo Danielle Smith

"It's all pro bono to do this work, we would probably see four or five a day, probably spend about $20,000 on drugs. We needed a dedicated facility to take the load of local vets and they are going to get specialist care.

"We've rushed to get it up and running before the next season of horror which is no doubt just around the corner," Dr Kosack said.

Wildlife specialist vet Dr Bree Talbot moved up from Cronulla to take up the position of foundation vet and vet nurse Hayley Corrigan moved up from Camden.

Vet Dr Bree Talbot Byron and Senior vet nurse Hayley Corrigan with a sea snake at Bay Wildlife Hospital. 16th December 2020 Photo Danielle Smith
Vet Dr Bree Talbot Byron and Senior vet nurse Hayley Corrigan with a sea snake at Bay Wildlife Hospital. 16th December 2020 Photo Danielle Smith

Among the patients, an X-ray shows the baby plover, found on the road, has ingested metal.

"The parents may have fed it to the chick, or it has seen something shiny and eaten it, but it will require surgery to remove it," Dr Talbott said.

A green sea turtle found stranded on the beach has a nasty skin infection, a rainbow lorikeet that is unable to fly and a Pink tongue lizard that has been attacked by a dog. The hawksbill turtle keeps accumulating fluid that is being drained regularly.

Vet Dr Bree Talbot with Nutella the Green Sea Turtle. Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital. 16th December 2020 Photo Danielle Smith
Vet Dr Bree Talbot with Nutella the Green Sea Turtle. Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital. 16th December 2020 Photo Danielle Smith

 

"Wildlife has the poor end of the stick, no one pays for them, they don't have credit cards, so they don't get the same care as pet dogs and cats, so we do this free of charge and really rely on donations," Dr Talbot said.

Co-Founder Dr Evan Kosack doing an ultra sound on Nutella the green sea turtle with senior vet nurse Hayley Corringan at Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital. Photo Danielle Smith
Co-Founder Dr Evan Kosack doing an ultra sound on Nutella the green sea turtle with senior vet nurse Hayley Corringan at Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital. Photo Danielle Smith

 

While the hospital is based roadside in Ewingsdale on gifted land, Dr Talbot said she is looking forward to being proactive when disaster hits.

"We have the capacity drive this hospital where ever we need it; fire, flood, heat, we can treat sooner rather than later," she said.

Running costs are expected to be around $1 million a year and reliant on donations.

Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital is on wheels and ready to travel anywhere. Photo Danielle Smith
Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital is on wheels and ready to travel anywhere. Photo Danielle Smith

"The reality is no-one owns wildlife and we don't charge for caring for them," Dr Talbot said.

The hospital is based roadside in Ewingsdale on 100 acres of gifted land. Plans are in the pipeline to construct a permanent treatment and rehabilitation centre on the site.

Donations can be made at www.byronbaywildlifehospital.org

 

Originally published as Mobile hospital to save our wildlife treasures

A sugar glider at Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital. Photo Danielle Smith
A sugar glider at Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital. Photo Danielle Smith