Most visitors to our veterinary practice are curious about the selection of animals in our hospital wards. Most of our patients are cats (in our cat-only ward) and dogs, but as well as the various pets, there is often an extra type of patient that often surprises people: wild animals.
It's common to find a cardboard box in one of our cages, containing an injured bird or small mammal. When members of the public find a sick, injured or abandoned wild animal, they often don't know what to do.
Their local vet is the obvious place to bring such creatures, and we're always happy to help out as best we can. Many vets are happy to give wild animals the essential care that they need free of charge: we recognise that they have no owners.
In most cases, there are three possible outcomes when a wild creature is brought to see us.
First, there may be no serious injuries or illness: the animal may have a minor injury that can be quickly treated, or may simply need a short period of rest and recuperation before being released.
Second, sadly, in some cases an animal may be so severely injured that successful treatment is not possible, and the best way of relieving their pain is euthanasia, so that at least they are no longer suffering.
Third, the animal may have injuries or illness that can be treated, but that require a prolonged period of hospitalisation and treatment. This category is the most challenging for vets in practice: our hospital facilities are not ideal for this type of care. Wild animals need to have surroundings that are appropriate for their species and state of health. A busy vet clinic designed for pet care cannot meet these needs.
Ideally, such cases should be transferred to a dedicated wildlife rehabilitation centre run by an organisation whose main focus is the care of wildlife. That's exactly what happens in many other countries, but Ireland is deficient in this area. Instead, this work is currently carried out by a small number of individual volunteers and groups. They are under resourced in terms of money and facilities, so that they can't come close to keeping up with the demand for their services.
The good news is that some of the individuals in this sector have joined together, with ambitious plans to improve the situation for wildlife care in this country. Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland (www.wri.ie) was established in 2010, with the aim of supporting wildlife rehabilitators, and working for the general advancement of wildlife protection and rehabilitation in Ireland.
The group has achieved many goals since it was established. An excellent website has been set up - www.irishwildlifematters.ie - which offers useful advice to any members of the public, wildlife rehabilitators, and vets who encounter injured or unwell wildlife. Step by step interactive guides make it easy to work out the best course of action to take to help the animal, and the contacts page enables you to find a rehabilitator or vet near you for advice or assistance..
WRI has also organised regular wildlife conferences which are recognised at Veterinary CPD level, offering a showcase for research and education about wildlife care, and they offer specialist Wildlife Rehabilitation Courses concentrating on the theory and practice of wildlife rehabilitation and to help people learn more about taking their interest further. WRI Instructors are now recognised as leaders in their chosen field, being asked to lecture to vet students as part of the veterinary course at UCD.
The long term aim of Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland is to set up a self-sustaining National Wildlife Rehabilitation and Teaching Hospital.
The new Wildlife Hospital will have the facility, expertise and capacity to care for and rehabilitate all native wildlife species, as well as a visitor and education centre with shop, exhibition area, library, offices, store room, lab, classroom and conference rooms. There will be paid staff to look after the hospital and animals, and they'll also provide on-site education and training for anyone interested in learning more.
There will also be a strong role for volunteers to help out, in the same way as volunteers have always helped at Dublin Zoo. WRI believes that social partnership is the key to this project's financial viability, and is proposing a social enterprise partnership (SEP) project in a joint venture with an organisation that provides for the needs of disadvantaged groups in society.
This SEP project, the first of its kind in the Republic of Ireland, will offer disadvantaged groups the opportunity to care for injured animals in return for their own educational advancement and personal development. The new wildlife care facility would have the potential to become a major addition to the tourist attractions of the East coast of Ireland.
A serious level of fund-raising is needed to get this project off the ground, but the volunteers are committed to their ideal , and I have no doubt that they will reach their goal. I am hopeful that within a decade, when I have a sick wild animal that needs ongoing care, I will be able to send them in their comfortable carrier cage to this new and exciting centre of excellence.
Visit www.wri.ie to find out more